A planned high-speed rail (HSR) connecting two major Southeast Asian commercial hubs, Singapore and Kuala Lumpur, is a feather in the cap for regional economic integration but profitability and political maneuvering may overshadow the ambitious project.
Officials last week signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU), the precursor to a legally-binding bilateral agreement at year-end, and an international tender will be called in August to appoint a joint development partner. So far, Japan has expressed interest in bidding, pointing to the famed safety record and reliability of its Shinkasen bullet train, local media reported.
The HSR, due to start operations in 2026, is a big win for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), which has been pushing for deeper regional integration.
The 10-member bloc launched the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) initiative last year in a bid to unite Southeast Asia into a single market and production base, with a focus on free trade in goods and services, free flow of skilled labor and liberalized investment. But so far, progress has been tepid due to domestic political concerns.