Contractors and consultants are gearing up to build a high speed line which will bring Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia within a 90 minute high speed train journey of Singapore.
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The new Singapore to Malaysia rail line will be only the second cross-border high speed line, with full customs, immigration and quarantine facilities, in the world.
The other is, of course, the London to Paris Eurostar connection, which opened 24 years ago. The Singapore and Malaysia governments are now taking their new line one step further, making it bigger, better, faster and bolder by kitting it out with the latest technology.
The two countries have close ties and a shared history. The island state of Singapore was even part of Malaysia between 1962 and1965 before becoming independent. It means many people commute across the border. In addition, tourist traffic is increasing rapidly, putting heavy demand on existing infrastructure.
Memorandum of undertstanding
In 2013, the two governments signed a memorandum of understanding to improve transport links and increase trade . This was then converted into a bilateral agreement in 2016 with each party formally signing up to building the new 250km long high-speed line between Singapore’s Jurong Lake District and Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur, due to open in 2026.
The route for the line is, as yet, indicative but there will be one station in Singapore and seven on the Malaysian side of the border. An express service will run non-stop along the line at speeds of up to 350km/h.
There will also be a shuttle service between the Singapore terminus and the first stop on the Malaysian side, and a domestic commuter service will also run between the seven stations in Malaysia. Switches, crossings and passing places will allow express trains to take priority and overtake domestic services.
The express line will compete with air travel, but project promoter SGHSR managing director Rama Venkta says its proposition is different.
Although it takes only one hour to fly between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur, compared to 90 minutes by high speed rail, the typical door to door journey time by high speed train will be quicker.
Venkta says that by air the total journey time from entering the airport at one end to arriving at the other is a minimum of three to three and a half hours after accounting for time to check in, and go through security and passport control. He wants to keep the time to pass through the station to just 30 minutes, cutting the total journey time to only two hours.
In addition the airports are outside the cities while the railway stations are close to the centre, adding to air travellers’ the door to door journey times.
“[Thirty minutes,] is a stretch target but that’s what we’re aiming for,” says Venkta. “The total travel time is what we’re targeting, so this is why it is so important.”
The structure of the organisations behind the project is complex. Each government is responsible for building the line on its side up to the international border located in the Jahor Strait between the two countries. In Singapore SGHSR is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Land Transport Authority, which is responsible for the project while a body called MyHSR has been set up to build the line in Malaysia.
A privately financed asset company Assetco has been set up to own the trains and lease them to the operator as well as operating and maintaining the infrastructure.
The slower domestic rail service will be run entirely by Malaysia.
Upfront funding for the line is being provided by the respective governments.
This will be repaid via a mixture of fare revenue and income from sources like onboard catering, track access charges, concession charges and train lease fees.
On the Malaysian side, the line has been divided up into seven packages with each being designed and built by a different consultant and contractor.
Civil works consultants were appointed last year and include Jacobs, Aecom and Systra. The role of technical advisor to MyHSR was awarded to CH2M and PwC in July 2016.
On the Singapore side, Aecom together with sub consultants UK architect Farrells, local architect, Architect 62 and CPG – which is doing the customs, immigration and quarantine (CIQ) areas – is acting as the LTA’s engineer.
It has been responsible for the preliminary design of the bridges, tunnels and infrastructure for the line.
Mott MacDonald, WSP and Ernst & Young are joint development partners (JDP) for Assetco, designing the common systems.
Despite there only being 15km of line at the Singapore end of the route, Venkta says the line passes through a densely populated area, complicating construction. Any railway line has to work within the masterplan for the new Jurong Lake District.
“Aecom has also had a massive job when designing the infrastructure,” says Ventka.
Construction of the line and stations is also complex.
The two governments have specified that they be “timeless, elegant in design, functional and maintainable”. Venkta says the passengers must find it a “pleasant” experience from start to finish.
To try to achieve the 30 minute stretch target for passing through the stations, the team is working hard to plan routes through the station and speed up the immigration and customs processes.
It will use the latest technology including the internet of things, smart gates and other initiatives. LTA principle project manager Hooi Leng Phua says it is being flexible about specifying technology now to make sure it has the most up to date technology when it is built.
“We can’t foresee technology so we’re scanning for new tech and looking what’s over the horizon,” says Phua.
At the Singapore end, the LTA also wants contractors building the line to apply the same approach to technology.
Because the 15km Singapore part of the line runs through a heavily built up urban environment, it is likely to be underground, including the station.
“The programme is very aggressive and because of this, it means having sophisticated technology to handle the rate of construction we desire,” says Venkta.
“Tunnelling is in challenging ground conditions in Singapore – we will be looking at sophisticated machines that can cope with that.”
Tenders for the civil works design in Singapore are now being invited. Construction of the line is due to start in 2019.