Legco slams rising cost of rail link

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 24 March, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 24 March, 2012, 12:00am


Lawmakers yesterday criticised the soaring cost of building the Sha Tin-Central railway link, and said the government's failure to start work sooner was partly to blame.

Last week the government said the long-awaited line would cost about HK$80 billion - a third higher than the previous estimate - because of inflation in the years before its expected completion in 2020.

The Legislative Council is expected to vote next Friday on a government request for HK$57.3 billion for the second round of funding.

Democrat Wong Sing-chi said every metre of the 17-kilometre rail link would cost about HK$5 million.

'From where I am to where you are sitting right now, it's the cost of a luxury apartment,' he told Eva Cheng, the transport and housing secretary, who was sitting a few metres in front of him as she took questions from Legco's transport panel.

People Power lawmaker Albert Chan Wai-yip said: 'The price means every Hongkonger has to pay more than HK$10,000 for this project. The delay has cost us so much.

'But that's not the fault of [MTR Corporation] of course, but the government, which has been so slow to take action.'

Lawmakers also questioned the project's HK$6 billion management cost. Unionist lawmaker Ip Wai-ming asked if the MTR Corp could waive the fee, which represents 10.5 per cent of the budget, down from 16.5 per cent in earlier estimates.

'Six of the 10 stations involved are interchange stations. It's a very complex project,' Cheng said.

She promised a more detailed breakdown of the management costs before the vote.

The project was first proposed 12 years ago, with 2008 set as the earliest possible completion date. The government delayed the project in 2003. In 2007, Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen named 2010 as the likely year of commencement.

Last year a court challenge to the environmental impact assessment for the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge caused the government to withdraw the assessment report on the Sha Tin-Central line, setting back progress for eight months. In 2004, the cost was estimated at HK$35.5 billion. But last September, it had risen to HK$64.9 billion.

Legislators approved HK$7.7 million in funding for preparatory work last year. The MTR Corp will pay HK$1.76 billion a year to run the line for 50 years. Work could begin as soon as the middle of this year.

The Tai Wai to Hung Hom section is expected to be completed by 2018. Unionist Wong Kwok-hing asked if the cost would mean higher fares. Cheng said the fare adjustment system was independent of the project.