Poor MTR. Everyone is upset with the unexpected massive delay to the much-heralded HK$67 billion high-speed railway linking Hong Kong with Guangzhou.
Given the repeated delays that have plagued the entire Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong rail project in the last decade, you would have thought their mainland counterparts would show more sympathy. Apparently not. Not that the MTR deserves any. Serious questions should now be raised about whether the original 2014-2015 scheduled opening was a realistic technical deadline or a "political" deadline because of real or perceived pressure on Hong Kong to match key rail segments on the mainland.
Shenzhen officials have complained about the two-year delay for the Hong Kong section, which will not open until 2017. But at least their criticism is more circumspect.
Mainland government advisers were more blunt. It's basically all Hong Kong's fault now. "All sections of the key infrastructure projects must be completed and connected synchronously. If one part gets delayed, the whole plan will be affected," a Guangzhou government policy adviser said.
The Guangzhou-Zhuhai and Guangzhou-Shenzhen North segments have both suffered significant delays. Zhuhai railway station delayed opening for at least six months, until the end of 2012. Another mainland adviser complained about the low number of passengers using the Guangzhou-Shenzhen line: "Would the Hong Kong government take responsibility for the poor return of the Guangzhou-Shenzhen express railway?"
Humm, could it be that the Guangzhou line currently only extends to the north of Shenzhen, thereby giving little incentive for passengers to use the line? Now, when the line extends all the way to the Futian district in the centre of Shenzhen, many more people will use it. Indeed, the Futian station is expected to open later this year, a delay of, shall we say, roughly about two years?
Just as pre-1997 officials such as then chief secretary Anson Chan Fang On-sang put undue pressure on the Chek Lap Kok airport to open on time, contributing to the debacle of its launch, we should know whether similar pressure, real or perceived, is being put on the MTR.