PRIME Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad has said he is merely postponing the high-speed rail (HSR) project with Singapore, softening his earlier intention to scrap the deal entirely.
Dr Mahathir told Japan’s Nikkei Asian Review that Malaysia would benefit greatly from such a project.
“There will be a need for a high-speed rail in the future, probably right through the peninsula. But we cannot afford it at this moment,” he said.
“So, we actually postponed the implementation of the project.”
Dr Mahathir’s comments are the first to indicate a softening of his administration’s earlier stance of scrapping the project entirely, a move which could incur hefty penalties into the millions.
In the interview with the Japan daily, Dr Mahathir said that while a high-speed rail would be useful in the future, its cost – which he placed at RM110 billion – was too high at a time when the government was trying to reduce the country's RM1 trillion debt.
He also said that the existing deal that would have connected Singapore to Johor and Kuala Lumpur was not beneficial to Malaysia, as the length of the tracks was too short to warrant the project's cost.
“High-speed trains are most effective where the distance is very long. But where the distance is short, it doesn't contribute much,” said Dr Mahathir.
“So, we need to rethink the high-speed rail. We cannot say we will never have a high-speed rail in Malaysia. What we can do is postpone the project because it is far too costly at this moment.”
Singapore’s Transport Ministry had last month issued a statement saying it had yet to receive an official notification from Putrajaya of the decision to scrap the HSR project.