SINGAPORE (June 4): When Dr Mahathir Mohamad took on the office of prime minister of Malaysia for the second time last month, he was widely expected to review the many mega projects that his predecessor Najib Razak had agreed to. The Kuala Lumpur-Singapore high-speed rail (HSR), a 350km rail link between the two cities, was one of them.

Even so, Mahathir’s announcement this past week that Malaysia intends to pull out of the project has surprised many. The HSR would have been “a backbone to robust economic activities”, says Karthik Karkal, an urban planner with CPG Consultants. “It would have created such a strong hinterland for [Singapore and Malaysia]. Building on these economic bases, more sustainable urbanisation would be created that promotes the quality of life of all in the region.”

Karthik says transport hubs tend to be attractive areas for development. If the real estate around airports were not subject to height restrictions, for example, he thinks “most of the high quality developments will be located close to the airports due to their ability to connect markets and people”. From this perspective, Malaysia would probably have benefited just as much as, if not more than, Singapore. Of the eight stations planned along the 90-minute journey, seven were to be located in Malaysia. There was a general expectation that the HSR would drive economic development and growth in smaller towns such as Muar, Batu Pahat and Seremban.

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