$7b project will take four or five years, but no start date yet The Executive Council has approved the long-awaited MTR West Island Line, which will cut travelling time between Sheung Wan and Kennedy Town by at least a half. The announcement was made by Secretary for Environment, Transport and Works Sarah Liao Sau-tung last night. The 3km route, planned to cover three stations - University, Sai Ying Pun and Kennedy Town - will cost about $7 billion, MTR Corp chief executive Chow Chung-kong said. Mr Chow estimated the line would take four or five years to build but said the timeframe would depend on progress of further discussions with the government and other necessary procedures, including environmental assessment and gazetting. The chief executive refused to disclose the train fares, saying they would be 'similar to the existing fare structure'. The extended route will shorten travelling time between Sheung Wan and Kennedy Town from the present range of 15 to 25 minutes to seven minutes. Passengers will take only 13 minutes to travel between Kennedy Town and Causeway Bay, and 14 minutes between Kennedy Town and Tsim Sha Tsui. Mr Chow refused to say how the project would be financed or discuss the financial arrangement with the government. 'For major infrastructure projects, normally it requires support from the government in order to realise the commercial return on the investment,' he said. 'Normally if the government builds roads and highways, they would have to pay 100 per cent of the investment as well as the regular maintenance. 'Working with the MTR, normally that kind of a support would be less than 50 per cent. Therefore it would be a very cost-effective way for the government.' Mr Chow said the extended line would benefit 200,000 residents living in the western district and 15,000 teaching staff and students at the University of Hong Kong. He strongly believed the population was enough to make the new line financially viable. Mr Chow said the rail operator was still in discussions with the government on building the two South Island lines planned to extend the railway to Aberdeen. He said the South Island routes would benefit economic development in the southern part of Hong Kong Island and would create 30,000 jobs in the area. The proposed South Island Line (West) will run from University to Wong Chuk Hang via Cyberport, Wah Fu and Aberdeen. The South Island Line (East) is proposed to run from South Horizons to Admiralty, via Lei Tung, Wong Chuk Hang and Ocean Park. But Dr Liao said further issues needed to be discussed between the government and the railway company, including the extent, cost, timetable and overall planning of the new rail line. 'As far as the South Island Line ... is concerned, we are still waiting for the Planning Department's recent review on tourism development and commercial development in the Southern District as well as the redevelopment of the Ocean Park by the end of this year before we would make any further decision on these two projects,' she said. The quest for an extension of the MTR's Island Line from Sheung Wan to Kennedy Town dates back to the 1980s. But the project was hampered by the building of the Tung Chung, Airport Express and Tseung Kwan O lines. Further obstacles included a fear that Kennedy Town's population was not big enough.