Hong Kong needs to fast-track new rail construction

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 16 March, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 16 March, 2013, 2:40am

Imagine Hong Kong without its efficient and easy-to-use underground railway system. Roads would be clogged with slow-moving vehicles. It would take much longer to travel. The air we breathe would be filthier. Thanks to our world-class Mass Transit Railway, hundreds of thousands of passengers - barring occasional breakdowns - can move across the city smoothly every day. Our roads have become less congested, and the duration of journeys more predictable.

But we should not take what we have today for granted. The success of our subway owes much to the vision and planning of our leaders in the 70s, without which we would not have such an outstanding public transport system to showcase to the world. Before us is another opportunity to shape a better future. A public consultation on seven rail projects has been launched. It is in everyone's interest to take it seriously.

Our roads are already overloaded with vehicles. Given our compact size and rising population, railway expansion is the only way forward. Sadly, we often spend more time talking than getting it done. Some of the proposed extensions still remain on the drawing board after more than a decade. As we forge a consensus on the way forward, we should not lose sight of the need to fast-track construction.

The community is understandably most concerned with the alignment of the proposed rail links. While residents and businesses do not want their everyday lives disrupted by the construction, they hope to benefit from the convenience of a new subway nearby - and perhaps a rise in business or the prices of their property - as early as possible. But it may be unrealistic to expect the network to extend to every corner. As long as a commercial business model is maintained, the railway will only reach out to areas that make operation financially viable. Giving priority to some districts is inevitable.

An efficient public transport system is crucial to urban development and economic growth. We are, thankfully, blessed with one envied by the world. Our future depends on how we build on our success in the years to come.