Four groups of design consultants are bidding for a feasibility study into plans to build a $7 billion spur line between Sheung Shui and Lok Ma Chau proposed by the Kowloon-Canton Railway Corp (KCRC). The scheme is part of the second stage of the $80 billion West Rail project to connect west Kowloon to Tuen Mun and the border at Lok Ma Chau. The importance of the spur line has gained added significance since record crowds jammed Lowu station last week during the Ching Ming festival. In a pre-qualification document issued to consultants, the KCRC said: 'The existing Lowu rail cross boundary point will reach intolerable congestion if an additional rail cross boundary point is not available by 2004.' The four consultancy groups are led by Binnie Consultants/Meinhardt, Halcrow Asia Partnership, Mott Connell and Pacific Bechtel. Tenders are due to be returned by the end of this month. The successful venture will be appointed ready for the three-month assignment to start by the end of May. Plans call for the development of a new replacement station at Sheung Shui built north of the existing facility which will be closed and redeveloped. KCRC said a new station was necessary because the existing stop was 'inadequate to deal with the projected increase in passenger volume'. The new station will serve both the existing East Rail network and the new spur to Lok Ma Chau. A new terminus will also be built at Lok Ma Chau that will be integrated with immigration and customs facilities. A footbridge, similar to the link between Lowu and Shenzhen, will allow passengers to connect with Huanggang station, across the border. About seven kilometres of new double track will be laid between Sheung Shui and Lok Ma Chau. The rail corporation said initial and detailed design could take two years to complete, meaning construction could start by mid-2000, with completion four years later. KCRC is also planning to carry out a huge property development above the new Sheung Shui station. The winning consultancy team is expected to investigate and advise the KCRC on the likely size and commercial mix of the property element which would include a transport interchange and park and ride facilities.