PASSENGER traffic between Hong Kong, the New Territories and southern China will balloon after 1997, as will Hong Kong's population, according to Kowloon-Canton Railway Corp (KCRC) chairman Kevin Hyde. 'There is absolutely no doubt in our mind that this [passenger traffic] is going to grow, and grow significantly,' Mr Hyde told delegates to the annual AsiaRail '95 conference. He said Hong Kong's population would increase to between eight million and 10 million after the handover to Beijing. The KCRC was planning a new line that would provide direct access for China to its top port, he said. It planned to 'unlock the northwest New Territories' and provide new rail access to Shenzhen's future city centre, Mr Hyde said. 'Finally, it will add substantial capacity for inter-city trains to China,' Mr Hyde added. Many new developments were under way, including those in Beijing, Shanghai, Tianjin, Hong Kong, Guangzhou and Nanjing, he said. That list of projects was impressive enough, but the longer-term potential was huge, he said. 'In addition to the 21 cities with true urban populations of one million or more - and therefore lend themselves to metro systems - there were 267 cities with a population exceeding 300,000, which were potential markets for light rail systems,' Mr Hyde said. 'With continued urban migration, these cities will have to absorb many more millions, thus increasing further the demand for more railways.' He said China's railway market showed great growth potential, and cited figures showing that Western Europeans travelled about three times as much on their rail systems as the Chinese, while United States' railways carried more than four times the amount of freight per capita as China's. He predicted that by 2000 China's track length would grow by about 20 per cent to more than 70,000 kilometres, double-tracking would increase by about 45 per cent to 25,000 km and electrified track would more than double to 20,000 km. 'The most important example of this expansion is the Beijing to Kowloon line, now scheduled to come into service in 1996, two years ahead of schedule,' he said. 'This is a massive commitment to build new rail infrastructure and reflects the fact that China has recognised the critical role railways play in the country's economy - so much so that it has been given national priority second only to food production.' Mass Transit Railway Corp (MTRC) finance director Roger Moss told the conference that the coming MTRC annual report would predict that it would complete the airport railway within original estimates. MTRC financial projections showed the corporation was 'with an ability to retire all debts by the year 2006', Mr Moss said.