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You can't get there from here, Southeast Asia Edition



Tags: prosetraveltransit

The most traveled international flight route of 2023 was Singapore ←→ Kuala Lumpur. According to this infographic, it beat America's best (JFK-LHR) by a million passengers:



With all of the celebrated public transit in Kuala Lumpur and Singapore, why do so many people fly between them?

The Google Maps Transit directions today look intimidating, especially compared to the mere 4 1/2 hour estimate for driving.



Escape from Singapore

Let's start by trying to leave Singapore by train.

The city-state is roughly diamond-shaped. Below is a population density map from a 2020 Covid study. For context, New York City is 11.3k / km^2, and Manhattan is 28.2k / km^2.



The central business district (CBD) is a little inland from the south corner, and the current airport is at the eastern corner.

The MRT network within Singapore uses the CBD as the hub:



The rail terminal to leave Singapore is way up in the north corner. The border train station is disconnected from the Singapore MRT. A new rail link is in the works to open at Woodlands North in 2026 (Graphic by Seloloving, Wikipedia):



Once you've gotten to the station, passed customs, and crossed to Johor Bahru, you have to find a way to Kuala Lumpur. Google suggests boarding a bus at JB Sentral station, which drives non-stop to Terminal Bersepadu Selatan (south of Kuala Lumpur, and served by the metro network).

The existing rail connection goes north, through the center of the country. To get to your destination strictly by train, you will need to transfer in Gemas. That station also supports transfers to the northeast corner of the country.

Railroad plans derailed

Realizing the current situation is not ideal, talks began in 2010 for a direct high-speed rail link. After changes in Malaysian leadership and investment (see: Man on the Run (2023) on Netflix), the project was cancelled in 2021: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kuala_Lumpur%E2%80%93Singapore_high-speed_rail

At the end of 2023, the Sultan of Johor (who is slated to begin his term as Malaysia's Head of State in February) made some comments around reviving high-speed rail, connecting with existing urban developments, and seeking private funding: https://www.malaymail.com/news/malaysia/2023/12/10/johor-sultan-plans-to-revive-the-high-speed-rail-hsr-link-project-with-singapore-next-year/106799

HSR Route context

The planned route passes through Melaka instead of following the existing tracks through Kluang and Gemas. Reconnecting Melaka would be popular (via Reddit: a rail line was built around 1905, but got dismantled by the Japanese during WWII). Although Wikipedia focuses on the Malaysian politics blocking high-speed rail, it's unclear how much Singaporeans are willing to contribute to miles of new track virtually all within Malaysia.

The Wiki article also avoids the topic of Belt and Road - though this would typically be an appealing large infrastructure project for China, the 1MDB scandal and delays of prior Belt and Road projects means they will probably avoid this one, or keep to finishing rail on the east coast.

My own upcoming travels

The train part of my journey ought to be relatively simple, from Johor Bahru to Kluang (also in Johor state), eventually a bus to Melaka, and some other bus connection to get to Putrajaya.