Rail transport comprises operational mass rapid transit (MRT) systems, light rail transit (LRT) systems, and commuter rail systems. While there have been rapid changes in urban transport in Southeast Asia (SEA) in recent decades, the lack of proper rail infrastructure and maintenance of rail networks is a persistent issue in some SEA countries. Southeast Asia Infrastructure provides a brief account of the key rail infrastructure development plans in SEA countries…


The Ministry of Public Works and Transport (MPWT) of Cambodia is drafting a railway development strategy to revamp train transport to make it more profitable and efficient. The railway development strategy in Cambodia is in line with the continuously increasing trend of growth of transport. At present, Cambodia has two 1,000 mm gauge lines, with the first running from Poipet to Phnom Penh and the other from the capital to the port of Sihanoukville. In May 2022, the Government of Cambodia launched a feasibility study to upgrade its two-line rail network to increase its maximum speed from the current speed of 30 km per hour. MPWT will oversee the study. The upgraded lines will be used for both passenger and freight services, although the speed of the upgraded line has not yet been announced.

Plans to modernise the Kingdom’s railway system are also being considered. So far, the country has been unsuccessful in drawing up a concrete plan to make the upgrade a reality.


PT Kereta Api Indonesia (PT KAI) is the country’s state-owned rail operator. The organisation looks into the rail development plans of the country. PT KAI recently announced that the Greater Jakarta LRT project’s cost overrun has reached IDR 2.6 trillion due to the delays in commencing commercial operations. As of June 2022, 83 per cent of the work on the project has been completed. Of the total required investment of IDR 32.5 trillion, PT KAI has contributed about IDR 22.3 trillion through syndicated facilities while IDR 10.2 trillion was raised from state capital participation (PMN).

So far, there has been no request for an additional round of PMN. PT Kai will oversee the operation and maintenance of the project. The 43 km LRT line is scheduled to open to passenger traffic by the end of December 2022, later than the schedule initial opening date of August 2022. Another major railway project, the 142 km Jakarta-Bandung high speed rail line connecting the Indonesian capital Jakarta with Bandung, the capital of West Java province, is currently under construction. The project is expected to commence in June 2023. The estimated cost of the project is $8 billion.


In 2021, the Vietnamese government approved the 2021-30 rail network strategy, which envisages the construction of nine new lines across the country at an investment of $10.3 billion. The strategy also includes plans to upgrade the country’s seven existing railway lines by a total distance of 2,440 km. By 2030, Vietnam’s railway sector aims to transport 11.8 million tonnes of goods per year and 460 million passengers annually. The country is expected to have 25 rail routes totalling 6,354 km by 2050.


Malaysia is working progressively towards building an efficient rail infrastructure. Thirty per cent of the construction on the East Coast Rail Link project in Malaysia has been completed.The 655 km long project will connect the eastern coast of Malaysia with the western part of the country. China Communications Construction Company is the main contractor for the project.The project entails an investment of around $12 billion. As per latest updates, excavation work has begun on the Genting Tunnel of the project.

By the end of 2022, 37 per cent of the work is expected to be completed. In another important development, the Malaysian government has approved the implementation of the MRT 3 Circle Line project. The new rail network is planned to be around 50 km, with a circular alignment running along the perimeter of Kuala Lumpur city. This alignment will comprise elevated and underground sections, covering 31 stations in total. The MRT 3 Circle Line is a much-needed connectivity section of the Klang Valley Integrated Transit Network under the National Transport Policy and is a critical component of future multi-modal mobility under the Kuala Lumpur Structure Plan 2040.


Singapore is planning to spend SGD 60 billion to upgrade and expand its rail network over the next decade as part of a larger walk-cycle-ride transport strategy. The extensions to the North East Line and Downtown Line, which will add four new stations to the network, are due to be completed by 2023 and 2024 respectively. The country intends to expand its rail network to about 360 km by 2030. This would imply that eight in 10 households will be connected to within 10 minutes of a train station. With 360 km of rail network, Singapore will have a total rail length more than many major cities such as Tokyo or Hong Kong and be on par with London and New York City.

Some of the key rail projects include the Johor Bahru-Singapore rapid transit system, Circle Line 6 extension, the Cross Island Line and Downtown Line 3 extension, among others.


In April 2022, the Ministry of Public Works and Transport of Thailand announced that it would conduct a feasibility study to modernise Cambodia’s cross-border railway infrastructure. The study is expected to be completed over the next three months.There is also talk of plans to develop cross-border facilities at the Stung Bot-Ban Nong Ian checkpoint with strategies to expedite its opening. The authorities are also considering the construction of more border crossings as well as establishing cross-border transportation agreements aimed at improving connectivity, trade volume, tourism and investment between the two countries.

The Philippines

The Philippines government is promoting an infrastructure development plan called Build, Build, Build, in which the Metro Manila Subway is considered a priority project. The deliverables will cover a stretch of the subway extending from East Valenzuela station to Terminal 3 station, a total of 15 stations covering 27 km, and a stretch to Bicutan station to be financed by a different official development assistance loan. The Asian Development Bank has approved its largest infrastructure financing in the SEA region to date, a $4.3 billion loan to construct a nearly 55 km modern suburban railway line connecting Metro Manila with the city of Calamba in the Philippines. The investment in the South Commuter Railway Project is part of the North-South Commuter Railway network in the country.