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Dreams crushed, hopes dashed for speedy travel after KL-Singapore HSR called off

SINGAPORE — It was as if he had struck gold when Mr Ricky Kok learnt that a train station for the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore High Speed Rail (HSR) would be built near a plot of land he had bought in Malacca, Malaysia. After news came last Friday that the rail project was dropped, he now fears that the golden opportunity is buried under a ton of bricks.

People viewing the plans for the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore High Speed Rail in Malaysia. Singapore and its closest neighbour aborted the project on Jan 1, 2021.

People viewing the plans for the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore High Speed Rail in Malaysia. Singapore and its closest neighbour aborted the project on Jan 1, 2021.

  • The cancellation of the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore High Speed Rail (HSR) project has left a number of people disappointed
  • Malaysians based in Singapore were looking forward to visiting families more frequently
  • Frequent travellers who shuttle between Singapore and Malaysia were tired of the perennial crowd at land borders during peak periods
  • Residents in Jurong who live near the proposed HSR terminus were hoping to cash in on higher property prices
  • Business owners in Jurong were hoping for more traffic and customers   

 

SINGAPORE — It was as if he had struck gold when Mr Ricky Kok learnt that a train station for the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore High Speed Rail (HSR) would be built near a plot of land he had bought in Malacca, Malaysia.

After news came last Friday that the rail project was dropped, he now fears that the golden opportunity is buried under a ton of bricks.

Mr Kok, 52, a Malaysian and Singapore permanent resident who founded food-and-beverage (F&B) company Chang Cheng Group, bought the land in 2014. Located at Alor Gajah, it is the size of four football fields.

He has yet to decide on what to do with it and is awaiting future developments, since the Malaysian authorities are looking into the viability of a domestic HSR project. 

“The (governments) have been in talks for years, so the termination of the project was very disappointing. If it turns into a domestic rail line, it wouldn’t have much overseas investment.”  

Singapore and Malaysia pulled the plug on the HSR, which was originally planned to be operational by 2026 — before it was postponed until 2031.

Construction work had been suspended from September 2018 to end-2020 at Malaysia’s request.

It was finally terminated after both countries failed to reach an agreement on the changes proposed by Malaysia when the deadline of Dec 31, 2020 came.

Transport Minister Ong Ye Kung said in Parliament on Monday that the deal breaker was Malaysia’s proposal to remove an assets company that was already part of the agreement.

The company was set up to act as a systems supplier and network operator of the HSR service. It would, in turn, ensure that the interests of both countries were protected.

Other Malaysians based in Singapore told TODAY that they were looking forward to visiting their loved ones across the border more frequently with the HSR. It was estimated that it could cut travel times between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur to 90 minutes, compared with about four hours by car.

Ms Nurlina Anuar, 29, an F&B manager whose family lived in Klang, Selangor, said that before the pandemic, it took her about seven hours by bus to reach Klang from Singapore. This was why she headed home only once every six months. 

She has been working in Singapore for the last five years.

“The HSR would have cut that travelling time by at least five hours. It’s a shame that it did not (materialise),” she said.

Automotive workshop manager Muhammad Khairil, 34, said that since he has plans to work in Singapore for the years to come, the HSR would have been a convenient choice of transport when visiting his family in Muar.

He even had plans to rent a room in the Jurong area in Singapore, because there was supposed to be a station in Jurong East.

Frequent travellers who shuttle between Singapore and Malaysia also said that they were anticipating that the HSR would offer a cost-effective and quick mode of transportation. 

One of them is Malaysian graphic designer Benjamin Cheh, 37, who has been travelling back and forth between Malacca and Singapore almost every weekend for the last 15 years to visit his family here, before the Covid-19 pandemic closed the border.

Mr Cheh said that he was expecting to take the HSR to avoid the perennial crowd at the land borders, especially on Friday and Sunday nights, and on public holidays. 

Singaporean Yoong Leong-Yan, 52, who works in the e-commerce industry and serves clients in the Southeast Asian region, said that high-speed trains are common in bustling countries such as China and Europe and they would have been beneficial to travellers like him who used to visit Kuala Lumpur at least once a month before the pandemic struck.

“The 90-minute travelling time was really an attractive factor. And it would have been great to be able to work on our laptops or have a meal on the train.

“Otherwise, getting to a meeting in KL usually takes about five hours. That is a lot of time compared to the 90 minutes,” he said.

HAD HOPES FOR HIGHER PROPERTY PRICES

Residents here who bought their apartments in Jurong told TODAY that they had expected to cash in on higher property prices in the future and were let down by the news. 

Ms Tang Siew Yuat, 46, a Singaporean, bought a five-room public housing unit in Jurong thinking that the HSR would make it convenient to visit her family in Kuala Lumpur. 

She thought that the location of her flat would also attract tenants who travel often between Singapore and Malaysia. 

“One of the considerations was the location. When I bought it two-and-a-half years back, the price was higher. People were talking about the area being turned into the second CBD (central business district) and the railway station being built here,” the data manager said. 

Similarly, educator Goh Tiong Gee, 51, bought his executive condominium in Jurong with the same thought in mind. 

Transport Minister Ong said on Monday that plans to develop the Jurong Lake District into a recreational and business hub will not be affected, although details may need to be adjusted along the way. 

The land parcels acquired by the Government, which include the former site of the Jurong Country Club and Raffles Country Club, will be used for new mixed-use developments and community facilities as well as the western depot of the MRT system’s Cross Island Line and an integrated train testing centre.

Like the residents in Jurong who were interviewed, small- and medium-sized business owners in the vicinity had hoped that the HSR would increase footfall and add vibrancy to the area. 

Mr David Goh, 60, managing director of Vanguard Systems Solution, which offers fire detection and voice communication services, said that he had earlier planned to expand his business more aggressively in Kuala Lumpur with the HSR.

Now that the project is shelved, he is looking at slowing down the company’s expansion into Malaysia, even though there has been some business activity in Kuala Lumpur.

Ms Emma Huang, 35, owner of a clothing store at JCube mall in Jurong, said that the HSR would have brought in more customers, especially those from Malaysia.

“Yes, we won’t get a chance to see what it’ll be like if the HSR had opened, but I can’t say that I’m very disappointed because it has not happened at all,” she said.

“If (the HSR) had opened and then closed halfway, then I’d be more disappointed.”

Related topics

HSR transport travel business Malaysia

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