Bill for rail link soars by HK$20b

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 17 March, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 17 March, 2012, 12:00am


The bill for the construction of the Sha Tin-Central rail link has soared by almost one third to HK$79.8 billion, the government announced yesterday.

The increase, blamed on the rising cost of construction material, will see costs rise by HK$20 billion more than original estimates by the time the line is completed in 2020.

Lawmakers said the increase - which has come to light just two weeks after the government said the cost of the eight-month delay to the scheme due to a legal challenge would be minimal - was too much and urged the government to control construction costs more tightly.

The Legislative Council will be asked to approve a government request for HK$57.3 billion for the second stage of funding for the project on Friday.

'We will try our best to explain to the Legco members [the reason for the extra cost],' a Transport and Housing Bureau spokesman said. 'Most of the sum arises from inflation in the cost of construction materials, the price of which rose by 50 per cent between 2009 and 2011.'

Asked if the price could rise even higher, the spokesman said: 'The sum we are mentioning now is the estimate of many experts. We are confident that this expected amount is reasonable.'

According to estimates in September last year, the link was projected to cost HK$64.9 billion.

'The government should be stricter in controlling the cost of construction,' said legislator Wong Sing-chi, of the Democratic Party.

However, work on the project should begin as soon as possible to ease traffic problems, he added. 'The traffic from Sha Tin to Central ... is extremely congested during busy hours,' Wong said. 'The project needs to start as soon as possible, as it has been discussed for a decade already.'

The spokesman said construction could begin as soon as the middle of this year if funding is approved. The section between Tai Wai and Hung Hom is expected to be completed by 2018, with the final stretch from Hung Hom to Admiralty expected to be completed by 2020.

Last year legislators approved funding of HK$7.7 billion for preliminary work - including expanding Admiralty station and building a new station at Ho Man Tin.

The project was delayed for much of last year when the Court of First Instance upheld a legal challenge to the environmental impact assessment for the Hong Kong-Macau-Zhuhai bridge project, of which the 17-kilometre link forms part. The ruling was overturned by the Court of Appeal in October.

The delay was not responsible for the increase in costs, the spokesman said. 'The environmental impact assessment has suspended the project for eight months,' he said. 'But we can chase back the time by being faster. Overall progress can still stick to the original plan.'

Some 90 per cent of the link will be built underground, so the impact on the public will be limited, he added. Residents of 20 blocks of flats, mostly in Kowloon district, may feel limited effects from the work as the line will go under the buildings.

Plans for the Sha Tin-Central link were first put forward in May 2000, with 2008 set as the earliest possible completion date. The government delayed the project in 2003 and 2010 was set as the likely start date by Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen in 2007. Despite fierce criticism of the cost of the project, lawmakers voted in February last year to approve funding for the scheme.