Deal struck on express rail link to Guangzhou
New line to be built from W Kowloon to border
The much-awaited express railway that will link Hong Kong with the national railway network achieved a major breakthrough yesterday when the government agreed with Guangdong to build a new line instead of developing the existing West Rail.
The so-called 'dedicated corridor' option, a new line running directly from West Kowloon to the border, will shorten the journey to Guangzhou to just 48 minutes.
The existing through-train service to Guangzhou from Hung Hom by way of East Rail takes 110 minutes.
Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen announced the deal, along with a wide range of initiatives agreed upon during the 10th Plenary of the Hong Kong-Guangdong Co-operation Joint Conference.
The proposed Guangdong-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link would enhance the city's strategic status as the southern gateway to the mainland, Mr Tsang said.
He conceded that building a new track would cost more and push back completion of the project by one or two years. 'But I think it would bring more economic benefits,' he said.
A dedicated rail link will take just 13 minutes to reach the border because passengers do not have to go through stations along the West Rail. Travelling this route, the 'shared corridor', would take 25 minutes.
The mainland section will be connected to the Beijing-Guangzhou and Hangzhou-Fuzhou-Shenzhen lines, which form part of the national railway system.
The direct line is estimated to cost 50 per cent more to build and to be ready by 2014 at the earliest.
Mr Tsang did not give a cost estimate, saying the government was exploring the engineering and operation aspects with Kowloon-Canton Railway Corporation and the mainland authorities. But a government source said last night the line would cost more than HK$25 billion.
KCRC chairman Michael Tien Puk-sun said the project could be open for bids by companies other than the merged entity between KCRC and MTR Corp.
At the conference the two sides also signed a pact on co-operation on services, environmental protection, food safety, intellectual property and communication. A taskforce was set up on social welfare issues.
Mr Tsang expressed confidence in achieving 2010 lower emissions targets. He said both sides would study post-2010 arrangements and step up efforts on energy saving and green production.
Transport analysts and academics welcomed the express rail decision but said it came too late. The line will not be operational until at least four years after a mainland inter-city rail network goes into service.
Thomas Chan Man-hung, head of the China Business Centre at Hong Kong Polytechnic University, said: 'This lapse is more than sufficient to implant a transport pattern into people crossing the border.' Longhua in Shenzhen would become a transit hub to many mainland cities after 2010. Once people got used to travelling via Longhua, they might shun the West Kowloon route, he said.