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TRANSPORT

Tram may suit Kai Tak better than monorail, operator says

Much-touted rail project set to be challenged by city's tram operator, which says building tram lines is cheaper, quicker and more flexible

PUBLISHED : Monday, 29 April, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 29 April, 2013, 4:59am

A government plan to link the Kai Tak development area with East Kowloon by building a HK$12 billion monorail is to be challenged by the operator of Hong Kong's trams, the Post has learned.

A proposal submitted by Veolia Transport is threatening to throw the fate of the much-touted monorail into doubt and could influence the government's plan to transform the old airport into the city's second central business district.

The French operator of the iconic century-old tram network is to argue that a modern tram system would be a better option for East Kowloon. At just HK$2.8 billion, the construction cost would be less than a quarter of that of the monorail, and it would not prevent big ships using the Kwun Tong typhoon shelter, which has been a major obstacle holding back the monorail project, sources say.

However, the monorail has strong backing from the community, having received majority support from the district councils involved despite the high cost.

Kwun Tong, Kowloon City and Wong Tai Sin district councils will discuss the tram proposal next month. It would see four routes built in two phases. The first pair - connecting Ngau Tau Kok MTR station with the cruise terminal and Kai Tak's public housing area - would be up and running in 2018, five years earlier than the single-route monorail set to open in 2023.

The second pair of tram lines, linking the public housing area to the cruise terminal, and Lai Yip Street to Kwun Tong MTR station, would open in 2023.

The fare for trams would be one third of the monorail's owing to vastly lower repair and maintenance costs of HK$142 million a year - less than half of the HK$382 million for the monorail. That means the tram operator could break even with much lower fares than needed for the monorail operator to do the same.

Another advantage of trams would be that they could run on the existing bridge connecting the old airport taxiway to Kai Tak, eliminating the need to build a new bridge across the typhoon shelter, which would potentially prevent around 100 high-mast ships entering it. The tram system could also be extended into To Kwa Wan and Kowloon City, which the monorail cannot serve.

But Kwun Tong district council is not convinced: "Trams would take up already-congested road space like Hoi Yuen Road, while the elevated monorail would not," said district councillor Ngan Man-yu. "From a tourist point of view it is also nicer to look at the beautiful Kai Tak promenade from a higher level."

But legislator Alan Leong Kah-kit said the monorail's foundation pillars would also take up road space.

"I don't see a monorail being more high-class than a tramway. Monorails are very expensive to build and there are examples of monorails built some years ago not being used because they are too expensive to maintain," he added. "We should not rule out other options."

The government set aside land in 2007 for a rail system in Kai Tak and officials hailed the monorail as the best option for the East Kowloon development plan, which is supposed to see Kwun Tong and Kowloon Bay turned into another Central in a decade. But the nine-kilometre route is likely to rely heavily on government subsidies.

Among 120 monorail systems worldwide, only about 10 are used as a regular form of public transport. Most are found in amusement parks.

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This article is now closed to comments

rauberg_scmp
Tram system at old Kai Tak airport seems like a no brainer. Why invest in a three times more expensive solution?? First of all the Mono rail solution would be an eyesore, secondly as mentioned before the maintenance cost.
It is time that Hong Kong stop the nonsense of building elevated walkways, flyover and now a Monorail. People like to stay on the ground. Please don mess up another neighbourhood. Keep it simple. Support this good cause.
impala
Well, it seems like a no-brainer then. Tram it is, right? Especially if we could perhaps increase the average tram speed by tweaking the plan a little, like a tram tunnel under a busy road crossing, and design longer trams with multiple entry/exit points that are easier/faster to board (do away with the insanity of having everybody board at the back like on HK island trams....) etc.

But I suspect that this suggestion will be put in the lower drawer, some committee will pretend to study it, and in the end the bureaucrats will stick to their stubborn view that it shall be a monorail. For that was Their Plan. And of course it is always better to preside over a bigger budget, especially if you can avoid losing face by doing so.

Please, please prove me wrong on this one.
rpasea
As the article pointed out, there are only 10 monorail systems in the world used as a transport tool. Most are amusement park rides for a reason: inefficient and costly. Buses are the most flexible and can be green if hybrid or electric. A tram is certainly preferable to a monorail but hard to beat a bus system as little infrastructure needed.
KwunTongBypass
Now, would anybody tell me which "existing bridge" the tram would take??? And why the monorail could not also take that bridge??? And yes, electric trolley buses with overhead wires, not trams.
HK-Explorer
There are existing level bridges at several points on Kai Tak (I can see them from my window) and I think they were used for trucks to access the taxiway and runway. I guess because Monorails require heavy towers and heavy track then the current bridge would not be strong enough. Trams / electric busses are much lighter thus probably can use the current bridge.
megafun
Funny how GOV engineers cannot support more trams when trains on railways - even on mono-rails are that much more expensive and accident prone (on level crossings). As for myself, I favor electric buses with-or-without overhead cables. They are even better than trams!
HK-Explorer
Electric busses are also good but they would have to be recharged every few hours. Also busses would have to deal with other cars / trucks. If they made the roads wide enough for busses and cars (4 lanes) then drivers will start using it as a short cut. Trams also look cooler than busses and gives a better feeling. Personally I like trams.
HK-Explorer
I think a Tram system would be by fat the best option for Kai Tak. Why?
a) Cheaper (mentioned in the article)
b) Can be put in place much faster (mentioned in article)
c) The biggest advantage is you do not need to walk up stairs to access. Can jump on and off at ground level.
You get off MTR and jump on a tram. Get to your office or area you are trying to get to and you jump off. Just seems so much easier than busses.
d) Expandability. Longer term it can enter into Kowloon City and probably further. this would reduce the number of busses as people in Kowloon City living working in Kowloon Bay will take a tram instead of a bus.
.
I am sure that modern trams are much quieter and smoother than the ones currently used on Hogn Kong Island. Trams are also very quant and nice for tourists to see. They give a more Asian / HK style than western Monorail type systems that really are ugly and not very nice.
.
Lets also not forget that people who take cruises are older and would not really like stairs.
fsk999
"fat the best option"? Uncle Fat?

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