Kwun Chung

Lawmakers told why rail link cost soared to HK$65b

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 17 November, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 17 November, 2009, 12:00am

Half of the 65 per cent rise in the cost of the planned high-speed rail line to Guangzhou is due to the many design improvements, and the other half is because of unexpectedly high inflation, transport officials told lawmakers yesterday.

At a special meeting to explain to legislators the detailed cost breakdown, Secretary for Transport Eva Cheng said new railway construction standards on the mainland, revised last year, and the enhanced design of the terminus in West Kowloon, were among factors that raised the cost from HK$39.5 billion, estimated in April last year, to HK$65.2 billion.

The diameter of the 26-kilometre railway tunnel, for example, had to be widened from 7.8 metres to 8.15 metres to meet the new mainland standard, which lowers the impact of air pressure on passengers' ears.

The design of the tunnel section in Futian, Shenzhen, also changed from a single tube to double tubes to take into account the sensitive underground water situation at the Mai Po wetland on the Hong Kong side. Director of highways Wai Chi-sing said: 'It will be fair for Hong Kong to shoulder the costs.'

Other design changes include strengthening of buildings' foundations, drainage pipes and other tunnels that the railway will run close to, and increasing the number of tracks from three to eight at the Pat Heung emergency rescue station.

Wai said the underground situation in urban areas was found to be more complicated as further surveying work continued.

The government decided to put the terminus underground in West Kowloon to provide more public open space and to give more traffic connections, adding to the engineering complexity and the cost.

Inflation contributed HK$13 billion to the increase in cost, which was more than the government's estimate, Cheng said.

She said she was not optimistic that a joint immigration checkpoint would be possible at the terminus when the line opened in 2015. 'We cannot underestimate the complexity of the legal problem, and we don't have a timetable on when it can be done,' she said, adding that an inter-departmental group was working with mainland authorities to resolve the issue. The group was working out a 'midway solution', she said, taking into account the situation in Europe, where passport checks are done on trains.

Civic Party leader Audrey Eu Yuet-mee urged such a solution, saying that if inspections needed to be done on both sides, the railway's speed advantage would be compromised.

Albert Chan Wai-yip, of the League of Social Democrats, said the cost underestimation was a severe mistake. He criticised the government for releasing the cost figures at a late stage, and said the earlier cost estimation was too 'rough' to be called professional.

The special meeting continues today. Officials will brief lawmakers on the railway's operation and give details of the West Kowloon terminus.