22 October 2017: This week Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak unveiled designs for the 7 Malaysian stations in the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore High Speed Rail project which is still in the planning stage, with acquisition of the land for the new railway line set to commence in November 2017. Designs for the eighth station in Singapore have not yet been finalised.
Kuala Lumpur-Singapore High Speed Rail project: This ambitious project has been under consideration since the 1990s but failed to get started until a firm agreement to build and finance the project was formally agreed with the Singapore Government on the 19 July 2016 with the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between Malaysia and Singapore. Once completed the aim is to allow passengers to travel the 350 kms from Kuala Lumpur to Singapore in 90 minutes (compared to the 7 or so hours it currently takes to travel by train from Kuala Lumpur to Singapore – a journey which currently involves taking three separate trains). The 43 billion Malaysian Ringgit budget for the project will be managed by the MyHSR Corp, a company wholly owned and controlled by the Finance Department of the Malaysian Government.
7 Stations in Malaysia: The designs selected by MyHSR Corp are not only ultra modern, they have all been specifically designed to reflect the geography and history of their locations. This show piece project of Malaysian economic development is also a show piece for Malaysian culture with the clear objective of increasing tourism in the area, presumably so that enough people will use the new train line to make it an economic success. The seven design concepts for the stations are as follows:
- Bandar Malaysia Station: Geometric design motif to symbolise the convergence of the Gombak and Klang Rivers driving Malaysia forward to a new modern era.
- Bangi-Putrajaya Station: Islamic art mixed with modern design features to symbolise a forward looking nation with traditional Islamic values.
- Seremban Station: A futuristic vision of the local ecology combined with the architectural heritage of the local area, particularly the Sri Menanti Palace
- Melaka Station: Reminiscent of a sailing ship in recognition of Malacca’s history as a trading port.
- Muar Station: Designed to resemble the book rest used when reciting from the Koran to symbolise Muar being a centre of learning in Malaysia.
- Batu Pahat Station: Inspired by the local dance tradition of Kuda Kepang.
- Iskandar Puteri: Geometric design intended to remind the viewer of a handshake. This is the last station before Singapore and the handshake symbolise friendship between the two nations.
Analysis: This is an important step in improving Malaysia’s railway network, which by comparison with other industrialised Asian nations such as Japan, China and South Korea, is poorly developed and often considered as slow and unreliable (but markedly better than train services in Myanmar and Cambodia, and only slightly worse than those in Thailand and Vietnam). This project is also a massive leap forward for the Pan Asia Railway Network project, which is an ambitious Chinese led project to link Kumming in Southern China to Singapore on high speed railway lines by 3 routes: one through Myanmar, one through Laos and one through Vietnam and Cambodia. All three routes are to join in Bangkok and then follow a single route via Kuala Lumpur onto Singapore. The big stumbling block on this project has been that none of the countries has been able to finalise plans to finance the various sections of the overall network. The Chinese Government has been less generous with finance than originally promised and Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia and particularly Laos have struggled to find viable ways to finance the huge cost involved in constructing high speed railway lines. Oil rich Malaysia and prosperous Singapore are now leading the ways amongst ASEAN nations by self-financing this first stretch of the Pan Asia Railway Network.