High hopes are pinned on the Johor Bahru-Singapore Rapid Transit System (RTS) project that is set to commence its operations in January.
The Chief Executive of the Mass Rapid Transit Corp (MRT Corp), Mr Mohid Zarif Hashim, stated that it is expected to absorb at least 35% of the traffic at the Causeway Link.
The RTS will be able to transport 10,000 people per hour, in each direction.
Considering how there were roughly 350,000 people who commuted between Singapore and Malaysia daily using the Causeway before the pandemic struck, the inclusion of the RTS and the perks of its efficiency will definitely make commuters switch their mode of transport.
This will also help to alleviate the strain and congestion at the Causeway Link customs.
The Construction Picking Up Steam
The RTS project has been a topic of conversation between the two neighbouring countries for a long time now.
The idea was first officially proposed in 2018, with the Malaysian and Singaporean government signing a bilateral agreement to build the link.
It was supposed to be completed by 2024, but it was postponed numerous times after the Pakatan Harapan Government came to power in Malaysia.
The project was officially resumed in July 2020, with a bilateral ceremony to celebrate the occasion. It was held on the Causeway, with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and his then-Malaysian counterpart Muhyiddin Yassin both in attendance.
All was fine and dandy, then COVID-19 attacked—
Or well, the pandemic made it more difficult to carry out negotiations, gather the necessary labour force, and the procurement and transportation of raw materials was hampered, which slowed the construction process significantly.
Moreover, there were a few snags on Malaysia’s side: there was a land acquisition issue in the Wadihana area, and water pipes needed to be shifted away from the construction site of Bukit Chagar station.
On Wednesday (18 May), Mr Mohd Zarif announced that these problems have been resolved, and the project will be completed by December 2026.
Aiming for Efficiency
The whole purpose of this exercise, very much like Hong Kong building an extension to their cross-harbour railway, is to reduce the travelling time from Johor Bahru to Woodlands North.
Any regular commuter on the Causeway can tell you that clearing customs at the peak of dawn is its own form of torture, and it’s faster to cross the bridge with your own two feet while watching the vehicles sluggishly and painfully move five metres per minute.
If it is at all possible, Mr Mohd Zarif hopes that each part of the border crossing can be accomplished in five minutes.
He hopes that travellers can clear immigration in five minutes, spend only five minutes to wait and travel on the train, and take another five minutes to move out of Woodlands North.
That would be the best-case scenario: efficient, quick, and no time wasted.
In order to achieve this, MRT Corp will have to work closely with various government agencies, such as immigrations and customs, as well as the Ministry of Health when it comes to public health safety.
With regards to the pricing of the fares, Mr Mohd Zarif admits that it hasn’t been decided yet.
However, considering the fact that it allows passengers to cross the borders under 20 minutes, the prices will be “competitive” and there might even be a premium.
The two governments are willing to invest in the transport system, but they need to find a way to break even the costs after all.
Singaporeans are no strangers to this; we get increases in our train and bus fares once every few years.
On Bringing in More Investment to Johor
Mr Mohd Zarif also mentioned that he believes the RTS Link project will be a “game changer” for Johor Bahru in terms of attracting foreign investment.
The project will inevitably facilitate the free flow of people between Singapore and Johor Bahru.
In the same vein, Mr Mohd Zarif hopes that it will attract foreign investors to invest in Johor, in sectors such as health care, higher education and hospitality services.
After emphasising on the importance of foreign investment for long-term economic growth, he hopes that the Singapore-Johor Bahru Corridor can be as connected and equal to the Hong Kong-Shenzhen (Western) corridor.
Given the land scarcity that Singapore faces, Johor can become the next ideal location for investments, both because of its interconnectedness to Singapore as well as the inexpensiveness of its land and labour.
The Malaysian Side of Things
Where Singapore is developing the Woodlands North Station, Malaysia will be building its Bukit Chagar Station.
The RTS Link tunnels will be connected to a viaduct that runs 25-metres above the Straits of Johor, thus connecting the two stations together.
Malaysia envisions Bukit Chagar station to have four floors, containing the train platform and an immigration, customs, and quarantine complex (CIQ).
Similarly, the land around Bukit Chagar station has been set aside for further development.
Besides serving transit-oriented purposes, there will be an adjoining transport hub and mixed property development.
In all likelihood, there will be malls and other facilities, since the area is almost akin to an economic zone, with the plans that the Malaysian government has in mind.
The whole project is estimated to cost RM10 billion (S$3.25 billion), with Singapore bearing 61% of the cost.
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