An estimated $10 billion is to be spent on a 10.3-kilometre railway line linking Ma On Shan to a new station in the heart of Tsim Sha Tsui, the Government announced yesterday.
At least 500,000 New Territories residents will be served by the $6.7 billion link from Ma On Shan's Lee On Estate to Tai Wai station, south of Sha Tin, where it will join the existing KCR line to Kowloon.
A further $2.4 billion will see this line extended from its present Hunghom terminus to an underground station at Middle Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, where a pedestrian subway will link it to the MTR.
That phase should be completed by late 2003.
Transport Secretary Nicholas Ng Wing-fui said the medium-capacity Ma On Shan link, due to be operating by mid-2004, will comprise 24 four-car trains running every 2.5 minutes.
It will carry up to 30,000 passengers an hour in each direction. Daily passenger flow is expected to hit about 240,000.
'We believe these projects can improve the traffic and transport situation in the northeast New Territories and promote development there,' he said.
Four proposed stations on the Ma On Shan line - at Lee On, Sha Tin Tau, Shek Mun and Tai Wai depot - had potential for the development of about 10,000 flats, said Mr Ng.
'With this convenient service, economic activity - and property prices - will increase,' he said.
But Democratic Party infrastructure spokesman Albert Chan Wai-yip said the Government's plans could cause chaos.
With the present KCR line already at capacity during peak hours, the new passengers from Ma On Shan would swamp the section between Tai Wai and the Kowloon Tong MTR interchange, he warned.
Daily average passenger figures rose to 675,000 last year, from 636,000 in 1995 and 604,000 in 1994.
'It will definitely be a mistake if they don't look now at extending the line to an MTR station, perhaps from Tai Wai to Shamshuipo,' he added.
Transport panel provisional legislator Dr Raymond Ho Chung-tai agreed, saying: 'Railways need to be in a network to be really efficient.' But Mr Ng said no further extensions would be considered until the commencement of the second comprehensive railway study next year.
The refurbishment of the existing line, now under way, would increase capacity by about 15 per cent.
The system now has 30 trains in operation allowing a service every three to four minutes during peak periods. With eight more trains this could increase to 2.5 minutes, he said.
'With further work at Tai Wai station for the interchange, I am sure they will be able to cope with the demand generated by the new rail,' Mr Ng said.
'All this will be discussed with the KCRC and we have invited them to submit detailed proposals.'