Lawmakers angry at indecision on express rail link

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 06 January, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 06 January, 2007, 12:00am

Lawmakers attacked the government yesterday for its lack of progress in building a long-awaited express railway line to link Hong Kong and Guangzhou.

Giving an update on progress of the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong express rail link during a meeting of the Legislative Council's subcommittee on railway matters, officials said they were still considering whether to opt for a 'shared track' or 'dedicated track' solution for the Hong Kong section.

'We have no final plan now,' said Philip Yung Wai-hung, deputy secretary for Environment, Transport and Works, adding that construction of the mainland section was expected to be completed 'very soon'.

The Executive Council endorsed a shared-track option last year in which high-speed trains would use the existing West Rail line instead of having its own dedicated track.

But Mr Yung said circumstances had changed.

'According to the Ministry of Railways, many mainland cities plan to operate long-haul through trains to Hong Kong following the development of the national high-speed rail networks in 2010.'

The government, therefore, had to reconsider the issue.

Wong Kwok-hing, a lawmaker from the Federation of Trade Unions, was angered by the government's indecision.

'The mainland has already kick-started the project but Hong Kong is still so slow in the preparatory works,' he said.

Lau Kong-wah, vice-chairman of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, said there was no doubt Hong Kong should use a dedicated track.

'We are so lagging behind now - at least six to seven years. We have to act fast or else others will have established everything and we will not be able to gain any edge, even if we manage to complete the project in future,' Mr Lau said.

The government disclosed earlier that using a dedicated instead of a shared track would increase costs by 50 per cent.

The link, which is scheduled for completion by 2010, would cut the journey time between Hong Kong and Guangzhou from about 100 minutes to under an hour. Analysts estimate it will cost HK$15 billion.

Raymond Ho Chung-tai, the legislator who represents the engineering sector, said the government should consider the benefit the rail would bring to Hong Kong's economy instead of the cost. 'It will not be able to link with the mainland railway system at all [if a shared track is adopted]. The project is crucial to the future economic growth of Hong Kong,' he said.

Lawmakers pressed the government to hand in a finalised proposal as soon as possible, but Mr Yung said this could only be done after the Kowloon-Canton Railway Corporation finished its own study, which might only come in the middle of the year.

Legislators were also angry about delays to the Sha Tin-Central line. The government said it was discussing financing with the MTR Corp and KCRC. Mr Lau said: 'The KCR promised it would solely shoulder the cost. Why do we have to discuss it all over again when the two railways merge?'