Long Valley tunnel on track despite $2b cost increase

Martin Wong

The Government has backed plans for a rail tunnel under Long Valley, costing $2 billion more and taking up to two years longer than the defeated plan to build a spur line across the ecologically sensitive wetlands.

The proposal, which has been endorsed by the Executive Council but needs further environmental impact assessment, was drawn up after an appeal board in July ruled out the previous scheme for a viaduct over Long Valley, home to 210 bird species.

Under the new plan, the 7.3km spur line will go underground 4.3km from the existing Sheung Shui station and then rise to the surface at Chau Tau, where it will climb on a 3km viaduct to connect to the Lok Ma Chau terminal.

The whole of Long Valley would be spared, in line with the mandate of the appeal board, Kowloon-Canton Railway Corp (KCRC) director of East Rail extensions Lee Kang-kuen said yesterday.

In San Tin, where the spur line would rise on the viaduct, nine hectares of fish ponds would be removed but up to 28 hectares of fish ponds would be upgraded nearby in compensation, Mr Lee said.

He also pointed to stringent measures to avoid underground water leaking from drilling of the tunnel, leading to settlement.

But the construction would be complicated in the Sheung Shui section, where existing rail line would have to be moved sideways to create space for the spur line tunnelling work. The whole project is estimated to cost $10 billion and will be finished by late 2006 or early 2007, compared to a cost of $8 billion and a completion date of 2005 under the previous viaduct proposal.

Secretary for Transport Nicholas Ng Wing-fui said yesterday the spur line was vital as the SAR was seeing an average of 230,000 people passing through Lowu on weekdays and more than 300,000 at weekends.

Several improvement programmes such as the expansion of the Lowu checkpoint terminal and increasing train frequency were under way to ease congestion, he said.

The KCRC yesterday would not be drawn on the fate of the spur line but noted that the extra costs would be offset by returns.

Director of Environmental Protection Rob Law expressed confidence in the tunnel option.

'There's no reason at the present stage to believe the tunnel would have any environmental drawback,' he said.

Mr Law said a new environmental impact study would be required, but a permit could be issued as early as the second quarter next year, when the Executive Council could grant a final approval for the spur line.

Green groups such as Green Power and Friends of the Earth yesterday warned of complacency, saying although the tunnel project would leave birds relatively unharmed it required tough monitoring as construction might lead to noise and water pollution.

Chief executive officer of Green Power Dr Man Chi-sum said: 'The area is a wetland. The tunnel may seriously destroy the natural drainage system.'

Graphic: PATH19GET