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Malaysia urges private sector to ‘take the lead’ on funding high-speed rail link to Singapore

Malaysia’s high-speed rail (HSR) link from Kuala Lumpur to Singapore remains a key piece of its infrastructure upgrade puzzle, Transport Minister Anthony Loke has said, but the project will only go forward if it is privately funded to avoid loading more debt onto the state.

Without the backstop of government finance, potential contractors – including from Japan – have reportedly shied away from heavy investment in the connection.

But Loke, speaking in Hong Kong on Thursday, said the government would not change its stance on a rail link which has already been mothballed once and then revived since Malaysia and Singapore signed a memorandum of understanding in 2016.

“Over the years, one of the problems that we face for the Malaysian government is high-debt ratio … we intend to reduce this debt,” he told This Week in Asia during a sit-down interview.

“So with such mega infrastructure projects, we hope that the private sector will take it up, but of course, with a sustainable model,” Loke said. “We do not want to end up with a huge financial obligation for the government.”

The HSR project is not expected to come cheap. Some projections put the costs as high as 100 billion ringgit (US$21.3 billion), though the government has not confirmed a specific budget.

“As of now, our principle still stands. That is, we want the private sector to take the lead for this project,” Loke said.

The link aims to slash travel time between Malaysia’s capital Kuala Lumpur and Singapore from around four hours by road to just 90 minutes by rail. It was originally scheduled to open in 2026.

However, the project was cancelled in January 2021, in part due to its multibillion-dollar price tag, despite its potential to become a key link in a Beijing-backed