May 12, 2023
JOHOR BAHRU – Construction of the Johor Bahru-Singapore Rapid Transit System (RTS) Link has reached the halfway mark on the Singapore side, and the project remains on track to start operations by end-2026.
Transport Minister S. Iswaran gave this update on Thursday at a media conference with his Malaysian counterpart Anthony Loke after they visited an RTS Link construction site in Johor Bahru for the marine piers of a rail viaduct that will span the Strait of Johor.
Mr Loke told reporters that work on Malaysia’s side is 36 per cent complete.
Mr Iswaran said: “Based on the progress that has been achieved on both sides, we expect to be ready and on time for commencing passenger services by the end of 2026.”
The RTS Link is a 4km-long cross-border rail shuttle service, with 2.7km in Malaysia and 1.3km in Singapore.
Construction on the Singapore side had hit the 45 per cent mark in March, and work on the foundations for the viaduct piers that the Republic is responsible for is expected to be completed by the first quarter of 2024.
Malaysia’s portion of the viaduct that goes across the Strait of Johor is about 30 per cent done. This section of the bridge is about 750m long.
A tender for overground viaducts and other structures in Johor Bahru was awarded in March 2023, and construction has begun, Mr Loke said.
The next significant milestone for the RTS Link project is the completion of a portion of the rail viaduct that will connect both sides of the bridge.
Prime Ministers Lee Hsien Loong and Anwar Ibrahim will commemorate this milestone in early 2024, said Mr Iswaran.
The aim is to hand over the rail infrastructure on both the Singapore and Malaysia sides to the service operator RTS Operations for track and systems work by December 2024. RTS Operations is a joint venture formed in 2020 between Singapore rail operator SMRT and Malaysian public transport firm Prasarana.
Said Mr Loke: “From the beginning, we knew that this project would come with challenges in many ways. Unexpected historic events occurred one after another within a short period of time. Government changed, Covid-19 pandemic, then government changed, again. Yet, the project is on track.”
Malaysia remains fully committed to completing the RTS Link, Mr Loke said.
He added that the RTS Link will give workers who commute between Malaysia and Singapore by motorcycle a safer, greener and more reliable transport option.
Mr Iswaran said the RTS Link is an important bilateral project that will help to alleviate congestion on the Causeway and improve connectivity between Singapore and Johor Bahru.
“More importantly, it will also strengthen ties between our two countries and our peoples,” he added.
Asked how much tickets will cost, Mr Loke said they will be affordable for citizens of both countries, but the fare structure will be finalised closer to the project’s completion.
Thursday’s visit was part of a day-long official trip to Malaysia by Mr Iswaran, who said he had a wide-ranging discussion with Mr Loke.
He added that they affirmed their commitment to strengthening bilateral ties, and discussed how to further enhance transport connectivity via air, land and sea initiatives.
Mr Loke said the two countries discussed increasing cross-border ferry services, adding that he has also requested that Singapore consider adding on to the current Tebrau Shuttle train service between Woodlands Train Checkpoint and Johor Bahru Sentral.
Currently, there are two ferry services between Singapore and Malaysia, one to Desaru and the other to Tanjung Pengelih.
A third service between Puteri Harbour and Tuas has been mooted by Johor Menteri Besar Onn Hafiz Ghazi to ease traffic congestion at the Second Link.
When the RTS Link starts operating, passengers will be able to travel from Bukit Chagar in Johor Bahru to Woodlands North in Singapore, or in the reverse direction, in about five minutes.
The shuttle service can serve up to 10,000 passengers per hour in each direction.
Before Covid-19 struck, nearly 300,000 people crossed the Causeway daily. Peak-hour traffic volumes through the Woodlands and Tuas checkpoints have since returned to pre-pandemic levels.
On the Singapore side, passengers will be able to transfer from the RTS Link to the Thomson-East Coast Line (TEL) via an underground link, without needing to exit the station.
The customs, immigration and quarantine facilities of both Singapore and Malaysia will be co-located within the same building at Woodlands North, as will be the case at Bukit Chagar station.
This means that passengers need to clear the immigration authorities only at their point of departure, instead of having to do it a second time when they arrive, as is the current practice for land border crossings.
The Wadi Hana Depot, located about 1km north of JB Sentral, will support day-to-day operations of the rail link, such as train maintenance, inspection and cleaning.
When asked, Mr Iswaran and Mr Loke said they had also discussed the terminated high-speed rail (HSR) project between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur.
Mr Loke said Malaysia is keen to revive the project, but it needs to be privately funded.
“At the time being, we are still at the feedback stage… and there are several Malaysian private companies that are interested,” he added in Malay.
Mr Iswaran said he underscored Singapore’s readiness to study any proposal from Malaysia on how the HSR project can be restarted.
“We remain open, and we are ready to work with the government of Malaysia,” he added.