Ad hoc ID checks an option for rail link

PUBLISHED : Friday, 01 January, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 01 January, 2010, 12:00am

Teams of mainland officials may be called to railway stations to carry out immigration checks on some cross-border train passengers before a joint immigration checkpoint can be set up at the Hong Kong terminus of the high-speed link to Guangzhou.

Transport secretary Eva Cheng said a joint checkpoint may not be available when the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link is completed in 2015.

However, clearance procedures would not be a problem in Guangdong as all four stops - Longhua , Futian , Humen and Shibi - would have immigration facilities.

But for destinations beyond Guangdong, especially less developed mainland cities, immigration inspection could pose a challenge.

This is an issue the government will face when it seeks HK$66.9 billion in funding for the 26-kilometre local section of the express link from the Legislative Council on Friday.

Ronny Tong Ka-wah of the Civic Party, who successfully delayed approval of the funding at the previous Finance Committee meeting, said pan-democrat lawmakers would meet in the coming week to study ways to further delay the funding, which they have said is too expensive. 'The availability of joint immigration [checks] will be one area of concern,' he said.

But Cheng said the central and Hong Kong governments still had ample time to study that, and the most pressing issue now was to get the work started - as the mainland's high-speed network would be completed by about 2012 or 2013.

'We have laid down six hours for the discussion this time,' Cheng said.

At the previous meeting, Tong asked if any lawmaker had an interest in the project, and the discussion took three hours, forcing the funding debate to be postponed.

A top government official said there were many ways to resolve the immigration clearance issues, even without a joint immigration checkpoint at the West Kowloon terminus.

'For mainland train stations with no immigration facilities, immigration officials can be called in to perform the checks at the station upon a train's arrival. For remote destinations, there will probably be just one cross-border train a day.'

Another suggestion is to perform the inspection on trains, with a team of immigration officers boarding trains one or two hours before they cross into Hong Kong.

Pan-democrat lawmakers oppose the rail project, and the Civic Party says the terminus should be moved from West Kowloon to Kam Sheung Road in the New Territories, so the cost can be halved. But the Highways Department said terminating the express rail link at Kam Sheung Road and building another link connecting it to the Airport Express was not only less cost-effective - serving only 3 per cent of the population - but would also require up to HK$50 billion to build, not the HK$25 billion claimed by proponents.