Beijing academic urges HK lawmakers to block costly express rail link

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 04 October, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 04 October, 2009, 12:00am

Hong Kong should consider improving the existing railway service running between Hung Hom and Guangzhou instead of building a high-speed rail line, according to a leading transport economist in Beijing.

Professor Zhao Jian, from Beijing Jiaotong University's school of economics and management, who has been involved in a Ministry of Railways study on reforming the rail network, said he expected the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong express link would be financially 'unsustainable'. He called on legislators to reject the project.

The Hong Kong government originally estimated that the link would cost HK$39.5 billion, but the price is expected to rise. The South China Morning Post reported yesterday that the link was set to be the most expensive high-speed railway in the world per kilometre.

'There are only a couple of high-speed railways making a profit, including the Tokyo to Osaka line, and the rest all lose money,' Zhao said. 'The Beijing to Tianjin high-speed railway would have been broke like the one in Taiwan if it was not subsidised and operated by the government.'

The financial situation of the Beijing-Tianjin railway was not publicly known, he said.

Zhao, who has been researching high-speed railways for years, said they were attractive as long as the journey was no longer than three hours. Otherwise, he said, people preferred taking a plane. 'For me, to travel to Hong Kong from Beijing, I will definitely go by plane,' he said.

But he said the reason he was unconvinced that Hong Kong needed a high-speed railway to connect with Guangzhou was that the journey was too short and had too many stops. 'They can't maximise the benefits of a high-speed railway,' he said. 'There is no point in building it.'

The professor said that since high-speed trains ran at 300km/h, the process of starting the train, accelerating to full speed and stopping again took 26 kilometres.

'The whole journey between Hong Kong and Guangzhou is only 142 kilometres, and you will have several stops in-between,' he said. 'This means that the train from Hong Kong to Guangzhou will keep starting, accelerating and putting on its brakes. I don't see any point in building a high-speed railway.'

The distance between the terminus in West Kowloon and the border is 26 kilometres; the distance between West Kowloon and Futian, the first stop on the mainland, is 30 kilometres.

There will be three stops between Hong Kong and the Shibi terminus in Guangzhou's Panyu district: Futian, Longhua in Shenzhen and Humen in Dongguan. 'The nightmare follows the completion,' he said. 'Hong Kong will regret building it. You have democracy in Hong Kong; your legislators should stop it from happening.'

He suggested getting the job done much more cheaply by increasing the frequency of the current services between Hung Hom and Guangzhou, and upgrading the system to accommodate faster trains.

Hong Kong has several huge infrastructure projects on the drawing board, including the West Kowloon Cultural District, the bridge to Macau and Zhuhai , the Central to Wan Chai bypass and redevelopment of the Kai Tak airport site.

What express?

A high-speed train takes 26 kilometres to get up to top speed and then come to a halt

The distance between the West Kowloon terminus and Futian station is: 30km