Hong Kong can improve its competitiveness by establishing a port-rail link, according to one industry executive. Masahito Hidaka, chief information officer of Mitsui OSK Line's subsidiary StarNet Asia, the carrier's in-house systems integrator, said if the SAR wanted to stay ahead of rival ports it should provide a full range of intermodal services, including rail services similar to those provided in Los Angeles. 'A rail link is important and a service linking Ping Hu in north Shenzhen with Kwai Chung port would be good for Hong Kong,' he said. A Kowloon-Canton Railway Corp (KCRC) proposal, which is before the Government, suggests a rail link should be constructed between Tai Wai station and Kwai Chung port, passing through a single-bore tunnel. Freight trains would use the existing East Rail - which runs between Hunghom and Lowu - during non-peak hours to move containers to the port. The KCRC recently commissioned a HK$315 million signalling and communication system as part of a HK$1.2 billion upgrade. This would allow it to cut the minimum headway between trains from three minutes to 2.5 minutes. Approval of the rail link by the Government also would clear the way for the establishment of a freight-storage, cargo consolidation and distribution centre at Ping Hu. The centre would be used to consolidate cargo in containers before being transported by rail to Kwai Chung. Most leading ports in the world are served by rail, except Hong Kong - the world's busiest container port. Last year, Hong Kong port handled 16.2 million teu (20 ft equivalent units) of containers. Mr Hidaka said a rail service would be environmentally friendly and container-handling, subject to customs clearance, could be done at night. Hong Kong was already strong enough to handle huge volumes of containers by trucks and barges and did not need to develop a huge container rail service, he said. 'But it is an important point for buyers coming to Hong Kong from the US [to note that the SAR has a port-rail link] when going through the SAR,' he said. A port-rail link also would boost Hong Kong's container throughput as cargo from the interior regions of the mainland such as Sichuan and Chengdu could be transported cheaply to Hong Kong, he added. Mr Hidaka said shippers preferred Hong Kong to Shanghai because containers passing through Shanghai took an additional one to two days before reaching their destination, and also because Shanghai had less vessel frequencies than the SAR. He said if information technology investments in Hong Kong were successful, it would change its image and create more business. Mr Hidaka, who on August 1 became president of United States-based CDR, a company in charge of Mitsui's systems in America, said StarNet Asia's integrated systems, which cover 13 countries including Japan, were fully implemented last month. StarNet Asia's network has 1,600 users in Asia. It handles all of Mitsui's daily operations throughout Asia and centralises the data in the SAR. Mr Hidaka said the system would be introduced in North America, South America and Europe with a completion target of next year. Mr Hidaka also has taken up the role of managing director of MCS, a company in charge of logistics activities for Mitsui's US-based clients. Mr Hidaka said Hong Kong was one of Mitsui's three regional headquarters and that it was possible for the SAR to become the global centre of Mitsui's central database, though London and California - the other two regional headquarters - are strong contenders. As the mainland is the fastest-growing economy in the world and supplies most of its goods to the US and Europe, Hong Kong has an advantage over the other two sites.