High-speed rail can aid deprived areas

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 09 July, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 09 July, 2013, 5:04am

Some people have argued that budget airlines are a better option than high-speed trains.

I agree that high-speed rail projects do not score well when considering profitability. But when it comes to transport infrastructure, you need to look at the wider perspective.

Governments endorse high-speed rail links because they seem to them to be a catalyst to regional development.

They offer a green option and help to reinvigorate deprived areas. Financial returns cannot be the prime concern as these projects are an investment nightmare. In most cases, capital costs cannot be fully recovered. Some even operate at a deficit, requiring government subsidies.

The High Speed 2 project in Britain is a good example. The amount it might make in ticket sales cannot recover the investment (construction and running costs). But the project will bring significant indirect benefits. They include the increase in land value, surge in employment, more taxation and other returns from a wealthier community. Bolstering regional development is the main purpose of building a high-speed railway.

Besides, express trains and budget airlines target different customer groups. The latter is aimed at budget or leisure travellers who are less concerned about comfort.

However, if given a choice, business travellers would opt for the high-speed rail link, because it allows them to work on the move. These trains will take them right to the centre of a city instead of an airport which may be located in a suburb or even further out of town.

The fierce opposition to the express rail link from Hong Kong to Guangzhou was more a reflection of the low vote of confidence in the government of Donald Tsang Yam-kuen which supported it, not to the idea of a railway.

Hong Kong's link to the country's high-speed rail network will be good for the city, given our important business ties to the mainland.

Perhaps the Hong Kong special administrative region government should give more regular and detailed updates of the cost of the project, as well as emphasise its economic benefits.

This will give Hong Kong citizens a clearer picture, and allow them to look at the pros and cons before they come to a conclusion for or against it. It is important for the administration to get public backing for this important infrastructure project.

I find it sad to see citizens opposing development proposals without understanding their true value.

Wilson Chan, Tin Shui Wai