The government has been loudly proclaiming a policy of establishing a rail-led transport network - while dragging its feet on subsidising Mass Transit Railway projects, according to an academic. Bill Barron, an associate professor at the Centre of Urban Planning and Environment Management of the University of Hong Kong, said the SAR was the only centre among 15 surveyed cities with no direct government grants for passenger rail. The government gave MTR Corporation (MTRC) land-development rights as an indirect grant but the financing model was no longer viable as a result of the property slump, Mr Barron said. 'Government's transport policy is rail-led in words, yet road-led in action,' he told a seminar. Key evidence supporting this assertion, he said, scheduled government spending of HK$332 billion on roads and about HK$200 billion on railways until 2016, with some new highways competing with railways. Mr Barron said the government was virtually subsidising bus companies with free roads while rail firms had to pay for and build tracks. Despite higher costs, rail firms had to charge prices similar to bus fares. Mr Barron pointed out Hong Kong was the only city in which the government provided no direct grants for passenger railways among 15 surveyed cities in western Europe, East Asia, Australia and the United States. 'We [Hong Kong] are the only place in the world that expects the railway to be self-financing,' he said. 'We need a new financing model.' The existing financial model disregarded Hong Kong's population density compared with such cities as Tokyo, New York and Manhattan, Mr Barron said. 'Including the future Sha Tin to Central rail link, Hong Kong has four cross-harbour rail routes, Manhattan is the only [place] in the world which has such a high density,' he said. Mr Barron has called on the SAR government to provide direct grants to rail projects, saying direct subsidies to rail firms could even cut government spending in the long term. 'Take MTRC's South Island Line as an example' he said. 'By giving HK$4 billion to the MTRC for South Island Line, the government could save HK$10 billion by not building Route 7 highway.' The fuel tax to be raised from Route 7 users would barely cover the maintenance costs of the highway, but passengers of the South Island line could cover up to 60 per cent of the building cost. 'The government is reluctant to admit that Route 7 is dead. The public will eventually forget about the project,' he said.