Asia Minute: Malaysia’s Prime Minister: Dump High-Speed Rail Project

May 29, 2018


A multi-billion dollar rail project may be headed for extinction. The news has nothing to do with Honolulu, but it’s making headlines in Malaysia. HPR’s Bill Dorman has more in today’s Asia Minute.

The leadership change in Malaysia is already producing some policy adjustments: and here’s a big one.

Newly elected Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad wants to scrap the multi-billion dollar high speed rail project his predecessor signed with Singapore.

The project was designed to cut the travel time from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur to about an hour and a half. That compares to about five hours on the road — or eleven hours by the current train connections.

In 2016, the two countries signed a legally binding agreement on the deal — with an estimated cost of about 15-billion U.S. dollars, according to the Malaysian government at the time.

Competition for constructing the high speed route had turned into a minor sideshow in Southeast Asia and beyond – with firms competing from China, Japan and South Korea.

There were promises of economic growth, and jobs. But Mahathir is not buying any of that.

He says it’s a bad deal for Malaysia, and he wants to pull out — even if there’s a financial cost to doing so.

Mahathir Mohamad in 2007
Credit amrufm / Flickr

The 92-year-old Prime Minister also served as the country’s leader from 1981 to 2003 — and he wants to drop a number of major spending projects.

He also wants to renegotiate a deal with China about a 400-mile rail network moving at normal speeds from Malaysia to the border with Thailand.