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Southeast Asia to Get Its First High-Speed Rail Line

Bidding will open later this year for companies competing on the construction of Southeast Asia’s first high-speed rail line, and China is expected to snag the contract.

The new line will connect Kuala Lumpur to Singapore, stretching approximately 350 kilometers (220 miles) and allowing trains to reach their destination in just 90 minutes. This is a noted difference from the 7–8 hours that is currently required for the trip by train (or the five hours necessary by car/bus).

Estimates are as low as two years to complete construction, according to China Railway Construction Corporation (CRCC). Competing companies such as East Japan Railway Company (JR East) view this timeline as unrealistically short, commented Lee Der Horng, professor at the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, National University of Singapore.

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CRCC is stating not only the shortest construction time but also the lowest bid—about half of what the Japanese are expected to bid. China’s experience in constructing and expanding their impressive domestic high-speed rail network is an advantage, of course, along with their ever-present involvement in infrastructure and energy projects throughout Southeast Asia.

In fact, one of China’s other top railway equipment manufacturers, CSR Corporation Limited, has been actively doing business in Malaysia for some time. The company has sold and repaired trains in the nation for over five years, and in 2013 spent roughly US$131 million on railroad equipment manufacturing facilities in Malaysia.

What’s more, according to reports from China’s Caixin Online, CRCC and CSR Corporation have formed a consortium as part of their efforts to compete for the Kuala Lumpur–Singapore high-speed rail project.

The Japanese, on the other hand, have an unbeatable track record of safety and experience when it comes to trains (no surprise there). Their first high-speed train—also a world first—was the Tokyo–Osaka bullet train, which made its first trip on October 1, 1964.

In anticipation of the upcoming bidding process, a Japanese consortium has been established, and includes JR East, Sumitomo Corporation, Hitachi, Ltd., and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Ltd.

Other companies expected to take part in the bidding are France’s Alstom SA and Germany’s Siemens AG.

A target completion date of 2020 for this line has been stated by many, but some think this is too tight, considering that construction is not even projected to start until Q3 of 2016.

Once completed, this new line will make up the southern portion of the much greater Kunming–Singapore Railway Network. This ambitious network of rail service is in various stages of completion. Some routes are in the planning stages, while others have been completed and are already in operation. In total, there are three main routes: Eastern (through Vietnam and Cambodia), Central (Laos), and Western (Myanmar). All three routes stop in the larger cities of their respective countries, while eventually converging in Bangkok.

This long overdue system will finally connect the fragmented and mostly inefficient lines currently running on mainland Southeast Asia, no doubt marking a major improvement in the state of transportation in the region.