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Sultan Ibrahim Sultan Iskandar during an exclusive interview with the New Straits Times Press Group at Istana Flintstone in Mersing yesterday. With him are New Straits Times Press chief executive officer Datuk Abdul Jalil Hamid (third from left), ‘New Straits Times’ group editor Yushaimi Yahaya (second from left) and ‘BH’ Features/Op Ed editor Azman Abdul Hamid. PIC BY ZAIN AHMED
The proposed Rapid Transit System rail link will provide a much-needed alternative to the 80,000 to 100,000 people who commute via the Causeway daily. FILE PIC
The Rapid Transit System is expected to accommodate up to 10,000 passengers an hour in each direction between its terminus stations at Bukit Chagar, Johor Baru and Woodlands, Singapore.

MERSING: The Sultan of Johor has serious reservations on the proposed design of the Rapid Transit System (RTS) rail track, including an elevated bridge, linking Woodlands in Singapore and Bukit Chagar, Johor Baru.

In an exclusive interview with the New Straits Times Press Group, Sultan Ibrahim Sultan Iskandar said while he welcomed the project, he disagreed with the overall curve-shaped design of the track, as well the plan to build the bridge as high as 30m above water in the middle section.

The bridge, he said, would disrupt the city skyline along the Johor Straits.

"It disrupts the city skyline, and we are talking about a permanent fixture here. Go back to the drawing board and review the overall plan.

"The parties also have to consult me. Whatever (new plan) is presented to me, it will have to be logical, economical and sustainable for the benefit of not only Johoreans but all Malaysians and Singaporeans," he said.

Sultan Ibrahim said the proposed curved design of the rail link as well as the elevated bridge was impractical, unsustainable and potentially costly.

"Why do we have to have a curved design when we can have a more practical design that is straighter and closer to the Causeway?

"Why do they need an elevated bridge with up to 30m air draft (clearance height from water to a vessel's height) unless there are plans to remove the Causeway?

"I am proposing that the design be aligned as such for practicality and it will cost less," he said.

During the interview, Sultan Ibrahim also sketched a design he felt was more practical than the one proposed.

"The design matters to us and by ‘us’, I mean Johor."

The new design, he said, could be the same height as the Causeway or be slightly elevated.

Sultan Ibrahim also questioned the need for both countries to have separate contractors to build portions of the link in their respective countries. Instead, he suggested that the project be undertaken by a single contractor through a joint venture between the two countries.

He said he would bring up his concerns over the design in a meeting with Singaporean prime minister Lee Hsien Loong next month. Sultan Ibrahim said he would then bring up points from his discussion with Lee with the Malaysian government and the media.

"Unless you live in Johor, you won't understand the Johor sentiment."

The RTS rail link was announced by the Malaysian and Singaporean governments seven years ago to provide a much needed alternative to the 80,000 to 100,000 people who commute at the Malaysia-Singapore Causeway daily.

The RTS is expected to accommodate up to 10,000 passengers an hour in each direction between its terminus stations at Bukit Chagar, Johor Baru and Woodlands, Singapore.

On the Singapore side, the rail link will join the republic's Mass Rapid Transit at its upcoming Thomson East Coast line (TEL).

The 31-station TEL project will open in phases from 2019 to 2024.

On July 31, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Abdul Rahman Dahlan said during the Joint Ministerial Committee for Iskandar Malaysia (JMCIM) that Malaysia and Singapore would sign a bilateral agreement on the RTS in December this year, paving the way for the project to begin ferrying passengers by December 2024.

Officials have agreed to jointly appoint an operating company to run and maintain the cross border line's operating systems, which include its trains, tracks and signalling system. Singapore has invited SMRT Corp, while Malaysia has asked Prasarana Malaysia Bhd, whose subsidiary runs the Sungai Buloh-Kajang MRT Line through Kuala Lumpur.

Both operators are negotiating terms for the joint venture, which will have a first concession period of 30 years. Each government will also appoint an infrastructure company to fund, build, own, maintain and upgrade the civil infrastructure and stations in their own countries.

"Why must it be Prasarana? Why not the Johor government? Please remember that land is a state matter. My priority is the people of Johor: that they are happy with what is being decided."

Sultan Ibrahim, who stressed during the interview that he was in total agreement with the project, said the Johor government should undertake a joint-venture with Singapore.

“The project is entirely in Johor; so why should Prasarana be involved? Let the Johor government and Singapore have a joint-venture and I can raise funds if need be.”

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