RTS Link project behind schedule, says Singapore transport minister

Singapore Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan visits Bukit Chagar, Johor to check out the progress of the RTS Link in April 2018. — Picture via Facebook/Khaw Boon Wan
Singapore Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan visits Bukit Chagar, Johor to check out the progress of the RTS Link in April 2018. — Picture via Facebook/Khaw Boon Wan

SINGAPORE, Jan 14 — The Johor Bahru-Singapore Rapid Transit System Link (RTS Link) project is behind schedule and not progressing well, said Singapore Minister for Transport Khaw Boon Wan.

In a written reply to a parliamentary question on progress of the project, Khaw said the RTS Link Bilateral Agreement (BA), signed by Singapore and Malaysia in January 2018, set out certain milestones to track the progress of the project.

Based on the BA, the joint-venture company (JVC) comprising Singapore’s SMRT and Malaysia’s Prasarana Malaysia Bhd should have been constituted by June 30, 2018, and the JVC should have been appointed as the RTS Link operator (OpCo) through a Concession Agreement (CA) with Singapore’s Land Transport Authority (LTA) and the Malaysian government by Sept 30, 2018.

“However, these milestones have been missed,” said Khaw.

Over the past few months, he said Malaysia has indicated that it was considering replacing its JV partner, but has delayed confirming the matter – first until September 2018, then until December 2018 and most recently on Dec 28, 2018, it requested to be given until Feb 28, 2019 to confirm the JV partner.

“As a result of these delays, the JVC has not even been incorporated to date, let alone signed the CA,” he said, adding that Malaysia has also unilaterally suspended bilateral discussions to appoint the OpCo since August 2018, pending its confirmation of the JV partner.

According to Khaw, under the BA, if by the original deadlines the JVC has either not been incorporated, or not been appointed as the OpCo, then both countries are obliged to jointly call a fair, international and transparent open tender to appoint the OpCo, unless both governments mutually agree to postpone these deadlines.

In line with the intent of the BA, Khaw said Singapore prepared and sent draft tender documents to Malaysia in November 2018 for comments.

Khaw noted that there is urgency to this as, based on Singapore’s calculations, the open tender needs to be called by March 31, 2019 so that, as agreed under the BA, the appointed OpCo can procure the Thomson-East Coast Line (TEL) core systems for the RTS Link before these procurement options expire.

“However, to date, we have not received Malaysia’s response to the draft tender documents,” said the minister.

There is therefore a real risk that Singapore and Malaysia will not be ready to call a joint open tender by March 31, 2019, which may in turn result in the appointed OpCo not being able to procure the TEL core systems before the TEL procurement options expire, he said.

Khaw stressed that Singapore has been diligent in implementing the BA.

LTA has assembled close to 70 staff, including civil and systems engineers to implement the RTS Link, he said.

“We have called civil tenders to construct the RTS Link infrastructure, including Singapore’s RTS Link Woodlands North station, and our portion of the RTS Link crossing bridge,” he added.

The minister noted that Singapore remains fully committed to implementing the RTS Link Project and fulfilling its obligations under the RTS Link BA.

“We have also been reasonable and flexible, because we understand Malaysia’s circumstances following its May 2018 general election,” he said.

However, he said missing the agreed deadlines in the BA to appoint the OpCo and thereafter failing to engage with Singapore to take steps to jointly call an open tender to appoint the OpCo has serious implications.

Khaw highlighted that the BA is an international treaty that is binding on the countries that signed it, regardless of any changes in the government.

The BA makes clear each country’s responsibility towards the project, and the consequences of not meeting these responsibilities, he said.

“We will continue to take a constructive approach to move the project forward. As Malaysia knows, the RTS Link was envisioned to be a joint effort to ease congestion at our land checkpoints and boost transport collaboration.

“Unfortunately, as a result of these delays, the commencement date of RTS Link services will likely be delayed beyond the original target of Dec 31, 2024,” he said.  — Bernama

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