THE agreement between Malaysia and Singapore to build a high-speed rail network that will link Kuala Lumpur to the island republic by Dec 31, 2026 augurs well for the future of both countries. The signing of the final accord in Putrajaya on Tuesday in the presence of Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak and his Singapore counterpart, Lee Hsien Loong, would facilitate the implementation of the 350km rail line connecting the two cities.

The project, first conceived in 2013, wants to slash the land journey between the two cities to 90 minutes, from nearly five hours now, with trains running at a top speed of more than 300kph. The eight-station line will join both places via a 25m-high bridge over the Johor Straits. Most of the line, 335km of it, will be in Malaysia. Only 15km will be in Singapore. The neighbours view the enterprise as a “game changer” that will boost connectivity, strengthen economic ties and forge closer bonds between their people. It would also revitalise areas around stations. The experiences of countries in Europe and East Asia prove that high-speed rail links do change travel patterns and draw cities closer together. When high-speed trains began running between Tokyo and Osaka 52 years ago, they revolutionised travel between the two Japanese cities. The examples of Japan and South Korea suggest that the emphasis on urban development around stations are crucial for profitability.

This would cover in-station establishments, such as connected office towers and underground malls. Observers expect a similar transformation to take place in Kuala Lumpur and Singapore. The spillover benefits include additional expansion of public transportation in Malaysia with access to LRT, MRT and ERL. As towns along the way improve economically and socially, futurists predict a reshaping of the landscape for bilateral relations. It represents a positive milestone on the road leading up to enhanced relationship between the two countries which went their separate ways in 1965.

Malaysia’s tourism industry will also gain from the new rail service, which will offer tourists from Singapore and elsewhere plenty of options to explore charming small towns in Malaysia. Discerning visitors know local cuisine, natural surroundings and welcoming inhabitants displaying genuine hospitality set small towns apart from cities, and Malaysia has many of these. Enterprising Malaysians will seize this opportunity to improve their culinary skills, upgrade their businesses or start new ones. An issue that needs deliberation is fare pricing. If the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore service charges too much, it is unlikely to attract enough passengers. But if it charges too little, it may not recover costs. Note the purchasing power disparity between passengers from Malaysia and Singapore. This is among the thorny points which the bilateral committee, which will be formed to oversee all aspects of the project, must look into. The task ahead for Malaysia and Singapore is a mammoth undertaking to ensure the success of the complex project. But there is strong political will on both sides to expedite its completion.

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