THERE is light at the end of the tunnel for Tuen Mun commuters as elaborate plans for rail links from Kowloon to the northwest part of the New Territories are being honed. Plans are still on the drawing board but, if the Government's Western Corridor rail extension gets the green light, Yuen Long and Tuen Mun residents will have 30-minute rail access to Kowloon by 2001. The railways division of the Highways Department spent three years on feasibility studies for a $28-billion Western Corridor rail extension to the bustling satellite cities. However, after months of public consultation, a long-term railway strategy was now being discussed with the Chinese Government, the division's chief engineer, Mak Chai-kwong, said. Because many of the projects under the strategy would straddle 1997, approval from the Chinese was necessary, he said. Along with services for northwestern residents, two cross-border links - one for freight and the other for commuters - were also being considered. The New Territories domestic service would provide 120-kilometre-an-hour trains but the site for the northern terminus was still undecided, Mr Mak said. In the original study, Tin Shui Wai, northwest of Yuen Long, was suggested. 'But public consultation indicated demand for a rail link to Tuen Mun was high,' Mr Mak said. 'We are still trying to work out how far towards Tuen Mun we can go but we would like to extend the rail there.' The Highways Department aimed to use an existing light rail service in Tuen Mun as a feeder link to the Western Corridor rail extension, he said. Under the strategy, the railway division also was considering separate cross-border services for passengers and freight. 'Commuters will be able to interchange with Kowloon-Canton Railway (KCR) or the Mass Transit Railway (MTR),' Mr Mak said. 'The line will become a major link to China and will take some of the pressure off the KCR cross-border services which were used by 37 million people last year. 'The existing KCR service from Lowu, at the border, to Kowloon station, in HungHom, is geared for commuters in the northeast New Territories and is not for freight. 'The service carries more than 90 per cent of the land cross-border traffic and the Lowu crossing point will not be able to cope if traffic grows.' Development of stage three of the KCR link into the New Territories had started and plans were now in the pipeline to open a second border crossing at Lok Ma Chau to ease the work load of customs officers, Mr Mak said. 'Our investigations revealed people travelling across the border from Lowu often wanted to travel west into Shenzhen,' he said. 'Lok Ma Chau is the ideal position as it is already a crossing point for road traffic and could be easily linked to any planned extensions we have to Tuen Mun or Yuen Long. 'A second border crossing at Lok Ma Chau would also mean the territory would be serviced by two routes - one along the existing KCR line and the second along the planned Western Corridor.' If both governments approved the strategy, it was likely a new terminal would be built at west Kowloon. The cross-border passenger route would go via Kwai Chung Port, Tsuen Wan, then into a tunnel to Kam Tin and north to Lok Ma Chau. As it would take more than four years to construct the Western Corridor link, the railway division proposed an 'interim' track from a northern section of the existing KCR line, possibly Sheung Shui, to Lok Ma Chau. With Shenzhen becoming a manufacturing base in China, an efficient rail freight service was needed, Mr Mak said. The division had investigated the best ways of linking a proposed freight line from Kwai Chung Port with China's railways, he said. 'We want to run a non-stop container shuttle rail service from Guangzhou or Shenzhen to eliminate road traffic.' The proposal, which requires land behind Container Terminal Eight at Kwai Chung, has met with mild opposition from Hong Kong International Terminals (HIT). 'A rail head is needed at the port but space for container unloading and storage is more important,' HIT managing director, John Meredith, said. The division is drafting plans for a podium that can be used by both the railway and port operators.