Construction of a rail link between Sha Tin and Central cannot be speeded up significantly, according to the Deputy Secretary for Transport, Kevin Ho To-ming. 'We acknowledge the concerns of residents. But a rail harbour crossing takes at least eight to 10 years to complete, and even if work is speeded up, it won't be to a large extent,' he said. Lawmakers argued that the line, due to be completed in 2008, was needed earlier because plans to build a link between Ma On Shan and Tai Wai by 2004 would overload the existing KCR line. The Sha Tin-Central line, announced as part of a $100 billion rail network last week, would run via Hunghom and Diamond Hill under the harbour to Central. Democrat Andrew Cheng Kar-foo warned at yesterday's Finance Committee meeting that the Tai Wai KCR stop would be overloaded as passengers would have to change there to go to Kowloon or Hong Kong Island. 'The fact that the Ma On Shan railway does not link to Kowloon is a mistake from the word go,' he said. 'With the Tai Wai stop already crowded, Ma On Shan passengers put off by the crowds will not use the link. They will opt for the bus, leading to a failure to achieve the rail's target return rate of eight per cent.' Non-affiliated Andrew Wong Wang-fat echoed Mr Cheng's view, saying commuters would stick to buses to travel to Kowloon or Central because travel time rivalled that of the Kowloon-Canton Railway (KCR). 'The rail won't be able to break even as such,' he said. Emily Lau Wai-hing of The Frontier said: 'We've had many New Territories residents complaining to us about the crowded situation. They worry the problem will be aggravated.' James Blake, KCR's senior director of capital works, said the number of trains would be increased in 2003 when the railway's signalling system was upgraded. Mr Ho said the authority would try to achieve quicker completion of the crossing by dividing construction work into two or three phases based on passenger demand. Legislators approved funding of $8.5 billion to build the Ma On Shan link and the KCR extension from Hunghom to Tsim Sha Tsui. The proposal was passed by a vote of 31 to 11.