Monorail extension ruled out: minister

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 18 April, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 18 April, 2012, 12:00am

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Extending a proposed monorail system serving the Kai Tak development into run-down areas nearby would be too difficult and could render the whole system unviable, the development minister said yesterday.

Local lawmakers want the nine kilometre monorail, linking the former airport with Kowloon Bay and Kwun Tong, to also serve Kowloon City, San Po Kong and To Kwa Wan - areas made up largely of ageing tenement blocks.

But Secretary for Development Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor ruled out an extension of the monorail, which is intended to help the transformation of Kowloon East into a second central business district.

'The rate of return on the existing proposal is already very marginal and further extensions will make it even less appealing. So we could do it all, but it might also put the development of the whole system at risk,' Lam (pictured) told the Legislative Council's development panel yesterday.

The government estimates the rate of return on the monorail investment at about 1 per cent over the 50 years of its operation, compared to 4 per cent for most railways.

The monorail will link existing MTR stations at Kowloon Bay and Kwun Tong and a new one at Kai Tak, planned as part of the Sha Tin to Central link. It is expected to carry 200,000 passengers per day once it is completed in 2023, and will also serve the cruise terminal under construction at the former airport, as well as the stadium proposed for the site.

Lawmaker Starry Lee Wai-king, from the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, said residents in nearby districts hoped the monorail could serve them too. 'If officials believe cost-effectiveness is not a core concern, why are the extensions to these old districts not acceptable?' she asked.

Democratic Party legislator Lee Wing-tat urged officials to offer comprehensive information on the pros and cons of the system, citing the example of the light rail system developed in Tuen Mun and Yuen Long in the 1980s.

'This system sounded innovative and good before it was built. But it has proved to be a painful lesson, as it is not just expensive, but even slower than the bus. It is also not conducive to local development,' he said.

Liberal Party lawmaker Miriam Lau Kin-yee was also concerned that the monorail could be a huge long-term financial burden on the government, though she agreed it would be welcomed by commuters.

Lam said the government remained open minded on whether to opt for a monorail, though consultants' studies indicated it was preferable to options like a heavy-rail extension or 'green' bus system.

She also promised the lawmakers that the public would be given more information on the alternative systems in a public consultation exercise on the monorail next year.

The HK$12 billion cost of the monorail has already come under fire. Extending it to Kowloon City, San Po Kong and To Kwa Wan would add HK$4.5 billion to the cost, but increase passenger numbers by only 10 per cent.

And officials from the Civil Engineering and Development Department and the Development Bureau said last week that the environmental impact would be inappropriate in the narrow streets of those largely residential areas, where the monorail would come within three metres of some buildings.

But the officials said the monorail could have huge economic benefits, helping speed up the development of the Kowloon East area. It would also reduce traffic accidents and save time for travellers, they said.

$12b

The estimated cost of the monorail project in Hong Kong dollars. The extension local lawmakers want would add HK$4.5 billion