• Mon
  • Dec 22, 2014
  • Updated: 6:31pm
CommentInsight & Opinion

Delay to high-speed railway to serve as a wake-up call

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 20 April, 2014, 5:33am
UPDATED : Sunday, 20 April, 2014, 5:58am

Hong Kong prides itself as a showcase of public works, and with good reason. Not only did we overcome natural constraints to put in place a world-class airport, rail links and bridges; we also delivered them with speed and efficiency. This small city boasts an array of civil engineering marvels that is the envy of the world. That explains why the public was baffled when the government announced the target completion date for the high-speed railway to Guangzhou had been put back. The bad news was first confirmed by the transport minister, who said he was shocked to learn from the MTR that the HK$67 billion project could not be completed by next year as scheduled. At a separate press conference, the railway operator said service could only commence by 2017; it blamed damage caused by a severe rainstorm last month and complicated geological features encountered during excavation.

The 26- kilometre line that will link up with the national high-speed network is as much a marvel as a challenge. For a public project of that scale, slippage is not uncommon; and there are well-established contingency plans. What is puzzling is that some newspapers had warned of possible delays last year , but the reports were swiftly dismissed by the government.

The public can judge for themselves whether geology and weather are to blame. But they are entitled to ask to what extent human factors have played a part. The minister said he only learned about the delay last weekend. If this is the case, it has to be asked whether the MTR could have rung the alarm bell earlier. Pressure is mounting for more disclosure.

The saga also underlines inadequacies in government monitoring. Despite being the MTR's major shareholder, with representatives on the board, including the minister, the government does not appear to have followed the progress of construction as closely as it should have done. It remains unclear what extra costs will be incurred, but the line's economic benefits will be lower. According to the government, the railway will bring 10,000 new jobs, and the time savings to passengers and other benefits will amount to HK$87 billion over 50 years. However, it is unlikely anyone will be punished for the setback. Our reputation depends on the delivery of infrastructure that is safe, efficient, reliable and offers value for money. Officials and MTR executives should learn their lesson and put the rail project back on track as soon as possible.


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Serves them bloody right for putting the terminus in the wrong place. It should have been at Kam Sheung Road with a new link to Tsing Yi and the Airport Express.
Can someone please explain how major delays have been widely talked about for over a year now, and yet the Transport Secretary was completely unaware? Talk of recent bad weather being the cause really does sound like a whitewash although it may have possibly aggravated the situation.
It is perfectly right for Hong Kong to claim a superman status when it comes to public works projects some of which are incomparable masterpieces that cannot be found anywhere else in the world! Teething problems or obstacles while construction work is in progress as in the case of the high speed railway are not uncommon and nothing when compared to the achievements Hong Kong has to its credit like the best transport system in the world. Compare this to appalling conditions that prevailed in the 70s and 80s when it was a daily nightmare for people to move around even within city limits, let alone from Hong Kong Island to the New Territories! For instance, it would take more than an hour then to travel from say Quarry Bay (SCMP HQ then in Tong Chong Street) to Wan Chai which now takes just ten minutes by MTR! The express rail line despite the current problems may hopefully proceed henceforward at added speed befitting its name and could stage a surprise by earlier completion than anticipated now!
I cannot recall which government core project was completed on time and on budget since 1997. There must be something terribly wrong in how government works out the project plan and how the project progress is monitored over time. Obviously the government was deliberate to underestimate the cost while overestimate the project progress in the first stand. Once the project delays and ask for extra budget, the Legco will automatically approve despite some noises. It costs the taxpayer billions of dollars extra and when our financial secretary advocates a conservative approach in using the government money, is he doing good enough to ensure those huge project expenditure is properly spent. Obviously no, Mr Mak, you fail in this regard. The government mindset and approach towards project planning must have a radical change to avoid similar matters in the future.
Quote: "The minister said he only learned about the delay last weekend."
Yes, because "Beijing" perhaps forgot to tell him what his duties are in that week.


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