MRT to ease the jam between Woodlands & Johor Bahru by 2024

Actually it is called the Rapid Transit System (RTS), but most Singaporeans will go "Huh? What?" so I substitute RTS for MRT. This project was suppose to be operational by 2018 but has been push back by seven years to end 2024.

What is the Rapid Transit System?

For those who have been living in a cave for some time, the Rapid Transit System (RTS) Link is a cross-border rail linking  Bukit Chagar, Johor Bahru and Singapore's  Woodlands North station on the Thomson East-Coast Line. It is able to carry up to to 10,000 passengers per hour in each direction and will start operations on Dec 31,2024.  If RTS operates from 5 in the morning to 12 mid-night daily, the total maximum carrying capacity will be 19 hour X 10 000/hour = 190 000 passengers. The trains are able to carry more then half of the 350 000 people commuting daily across the two land crossing. RTS  will have a common customs, immigration and quarantine facility at both ends to expedite immigration clearance and to ease traffic congestion.

What Caused the Delay?

As mentioned earlier, RTS was expected to  be up and running by 2018, not 2024.  In an interview with The New Straits Times in Oct 2014, Public Works, Rural and Regional Development Committee Chairman Datuk Hasni Mohammad said that Johor had already earmarked it's terminus station at Bukit Charger (near Johor Bahru Customs and Immigration building) “It is now up to Singapore to list their choice as there is still no indication as to the final alignment of the RTS from a total of three options.“I don’t know why the republic is holding back, knowing that the project will benefit travelers from both sides of the causeway.”

What this means is that Singapore has to decide what type of train tracks to build. The options are to build the train track parallel to the causeway and above the ground; parallel to the causeway and underground; or diagonally opposite the causeway. So according to him, it is Singapore that is causing the delay.

However in an article in Today News Paper (2nd March 15) Singapore's  Ministry of Transport refute the claim and said that they have already informed Malaysia in June 2011 that the RTS terminus in Singapore would be located in Woodlands North near Republic Polytechnic. However, to date, Singapore has not received official confirmation of the location of Malaysia’s RTS terminus in Johor Baru. Only upon confirmation of the location of the terminus can both countries proceed to finalize the alignment of the crossing between Johor Baru and Singapore,”

From what I gather there  seem to be some big miscommunication between the two, on one hand the Malaysian are taking about rail tracks, while Singapore is talking about the stations location .

Who is going to build?

The next issue is the question of tender. Singapore's Minister of Transport Mr Khaw Boon Wan told reporters that Singapore's preference is to call an international tender to operate the RTS Link and award it to the best bid, but Malaysia prefers a local experience contractor (The Straits Times, 1st August 17). “After discussing with our Malaysian counterparts, they felt the project is a little too small, and may not attract competitive bids,” he said. “So the decision was, maybe we will forget about tendering this particular tender, and work towards negotiating a contract – at least for the first concession – with an experienced operator.”

Map of the Johor Bahru - Woodlands RTS Train Track

How to Share the Revenue?

Then there is the question of revenue collection. RTS concession payment split is 39% to 61% to Malaysia and Singapore respectively for the first 50 years. The 61 % of fare payment to the republic as they have to spend more on construction. Malaysia requested for a 50:50 split after the total cost was recovered, but the matter is still up in the air as Singapore has to make further discussions on their part.

Photo taken from the pedestrian bridge linking JB Custom & Immigration to City Square. In red is the future JB RTS train station, at the moment it is a massive car park for Malaysian working in Singapore

Will the project be complete on time?

Although a high bridge train track is easier to build and cheaper than a more extensive underground network system, both sides must be willing to cooperate and be in it for the long-haul. Transport analyst Walter Theseira from the Singapore University of Social Sciences (SUSS),  the timeline was “ambitious,” considering the amount of cooperation that is needed for a cross-border project like this.

I created a map on Google to show you the location of the station in Johor Bahru

Concerns about JB RTS Station

If they really go ahead with the RTS, the authorities need to come up with a comprehensive transport connectivity plan around the Johor Bahru station. At present, there are frequent traffic jam in the area earmarked for the station. Its location is very near the JB Sentral bus interchange, taxi depot, and the JB CIQ passenger pick-up/drop-off area. When the trains are operational, hundreds of commuters will be disembarking, clear the CIQ and leaves the station every few minutes, can you imagine the chaos when taxis, cars, buses jamming all the roads around the station, It probably takes about  10 mins to travel from Singapore to the Johor Bahru station by train but 30 min to get out of the station.

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