The Kowloon-Canton Railway Corporation (KCRC) gave a strong hint yesterday that fares will rise next year despite $3 billion-plus profits and growing pressure for fare cuts. Chairman Yeung Kai-yin said the high cost of borrowing for the $64 billion West Rail project could force it to raise fares at the end of the existing six-month price freeze. 'The cost of borrowing more than $20 billion for West Rail and the decline in revenues from our properties are factors that we have to take into account in considering charges next year,' he said. The KCRC and the Mass Transit Railway Corporation in June announced a price freeze until the end of the year after a coalition of political parties asked them to cut charges. The KCRC generated operating profits of $3.2 billion last year. Critics yesterday accused the Government-owned corporation of being insensitive to public interests during the economic downturn. Democratic Alliance for the Betterment of Hong Kong legislator Lau Kong-wah said West Rail was not an excuse to raise fares next year and the company should instead cut them 10 per cent. 'The Government is already paying a large chunk of the financing for West Rail. Now it appears the KCRC wants the public to pay even more for it,' he said. Fellow DAB member and Executive Councillor Tam Yiu-chung said a fare increase would be unacceptable to everyone. 'Considering the current economic climate, there will be widespread opposition should the KCRC decide to raise fares,' he said. 'There are other alternatives to raise money for the project without increasing prices.' Citizens Party legislator Christine Loh Kung-wai said the company should disclose the real costs of borrowing to the public to see if its claims were justified. Ms Loh was a member of the coalition that called on the two rail corporations to reduce fares in June. 'We have to find the money somehow to build the West Rail,' she said. 'But they should disclose their financing to justify any fare increase.' The Government is financing $29 billion through equities for West Rail's first phase connecting West Kowloon and Tuen Mun through Yuen Long. The KCRC will put in $10 billion, with the remaining $25 billion from commercial borrowing. Mr Yeung said tough economic conditions had increased the cost of borrowing, which would not actually start until 2001, but preparations had to be made by the end of next year.