This article first appeared on WEFLIVE 2017.
An important milestone in Southeast Asia’s rail connectivity was reached last year when Singapore and Malaysia agreed to implement the High Speed Rail (HSR) link connecting two of the largest cities in the region – Singapore and Kuala Lumpur. The HSR services will reduce travel time between Kuala Lumpur and Singapore to just 90 minutes from its current 4 to 6 hours by overland coach, and 70 minutes by flight. While the reduction in travel time will be a key outcome, the real impact of the project will be the boost in the economic development of the Malayan Peninsula. The success of this project may even act as a catalyst for high speed rail connectivity in other parts of ASEAN.
It’s interesting to see how a rail project not only furthers ASEAN’s quest for greater cohesiveness in its regional role, but also addresses several of the challenges laid out by this year’s Davos manifesto:
Greater collaboration between countries
The project is an important milestone in the warming bilateral relations between Singapore and Malaysia, opening up many opportunities for the governments and businesses of the two neighboring nations. At a time when narrow national interests dominate the agenda, the HSR agreement demonstrates how intergovernmental collaboration can be used to promote competitiveness, inclusiveness and a greater sense of community.
Revitalizing economic growth
Globally, sustainable infrastructure projects are known to have the highest multiplier effects on the economy. The economic benefit of the project, apart from job creation, is a growth in GDP over time. The indirect benefits will come from growth in supporting industries, such as construction, logistics and tourism, thus escalating overall economic activity. More importantly, as the most energy efficient means of transport, the HSR link could help to reduce the carbon footprint of both nations.
Reforming market capitalism
By providing a new engagement platform for the people and businesses of the two countries, HSR could unleash innovation in operating models and raise productivity of businesses in both countries, encouraging and improving competitiveness.
Bringing people closer together
In a fast changing world, where technology often challenges the need for human interaction, the high speed rail service provides a viable alternative for the time-starved to make the human moment count. By itself, high speed rail technology is impressive, and with continuing advances over time, this will be a prime example of technology bringing people closer together.
To achieve all this, timeliness and value for money are key. The two countries have their work cut out to make HSR truly a game changer in South East Asia.
Satya Ramamurthy is head of Infrastructure, Government and Healthcare at KPMG in Singapore.
Read more on geopolitics and its implications in Southeast Asia.