Jake's View

Legco on right track in seeking to derail high-speed rail link

We could make mushroom farms of the tunnels already built, at least that would be useful

PUBLISHED : Monday, 29 February, 2016, 4:11pm
UPDATED : Monday, 29 February, 2016, 4:11pm

The controversial high-speed railway project inched closer to a possible construction halt and a costlier price tag after lawmakers yesterday failed to vote for additional funding ...

SCMP, February 28

I cannot think of a better solution than that all further work on this wastrel project be cancelled outright. Not only would this stop us from throwing more good money after bad but we could make mushroom farms of the tunnels already built. That would at least put them to some useful purpose.

Let’s get the background here straight first. Not only has the bill for this new railway already climbed from an initial HK$39.5 billion to HK$84.4 billion (and counting ... fast) but no-one in this town ever asked for it in the first place.

Beijing bureaucrats foisted it on us as part of the national high-speed rail initiative, a costly state venture that has proved only another crippling burden on mainland banks forced to carry the entire financing load although initially their exposure was to be limited to 40 per cent.

Beijing has played coy with the figures but apparently the revenues do not even cover the operating costs and now are never expected to do so. Call this another several trillion yuan in bank bad debt. This network was built for reasons of national vanity, not national need. There is a price for such folly.

Our own bureaucrats in Hong Kong, however, had forgotten that they had somehow assented to doing their share and were told, when reminded of it 10 years ago, that they were well behind schedule and had better get cracking.

What Legco has here is the opportunity to establish a firm constitutional precedent

“Yes, sir. Sorry, sir. Didn’t mean to be disobedient, sir,” they said to their masters and promptly conceived a plan to build almost all of the Hong Kong portion under the hills as it had never been on any long-range plans before and thus no planning provisions had been made.

The engineering studies were rushed, far too rushed it has now turned out, as was the public consultation held to disguise the fact that the decision had already been made without public consultation.

One gem of the sales pitch in that consultation has always been a masterpiece of comedy. It was that this would be a very green project as studies had shown that rail travel on the Eurostar between London and Paris put far less carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than did air travel between the two.

Leaving aside, however, that most of the time on this flight route is spent going round and round the landing circuit, the Eurostar runs mostly on French electricity, which is nuclear generated, hence no carbon dioxide. Mention was not made of the half life of the plutonium residue. Green, huh?

And, oh yes, the Eurostar runs between the city centres. Our high speed rail will take you to a remote suburb of Guangzhou. On the metro link to the city centre you can then prove to yourself how, in contrast, sardines in a can may seem to have the population density of Siberia.

READ MORE: End of the line? Hong Kong transport officials in emergency meeting over troubled high-speed rail project to mainland China

What Legco has here is the opportunity to establish a firm constitutional precedent, not just its usual noises about the election of the chief executive but a point of real significance.

It is that elected representatives cannot in the future be taken by the administration as just a conduit through which decisions are passed for the purpose of international pretences to democracy. Legislators must now truly be convinced of the funding measures they are asked to approve.

And nothing could possibly make the point more forcibly than that this railway project simply be abandoned, just dropped as is for not having met the approval standards required of public works.

Nothing would be lost that isn’t already lost. The money already spent was lost the moment it was spent. This project has no value to us. We do not need a duplicate railway, particularly one going from near nowhere to absolute nowhere.

What we do need is an end to the squandering of vast sums of our precious public savings on infrastructure projects of marginal value or none at all.

And Legco now has the chance to stop this ongoing waste of money while at the same time cementing its authority over public spending. I cheer for the pan-dems on this one.