THE Government is trying to push ahead with the building of the airport railway by tabling in the Legislative Council a funding request for preliminary work, despite uncertainties over the railway's fate. On top of a $4.7 billion airport funding request made yesterday, an additional $145 million, repayable upon the construction of the railway, was sought to allow the Mass Transit Railway Corporation (MTRC) to proceed with advance work. This includes the sub-ballast, fencing and drainage works. Of the $145 million, about $72 million will cover projects for the Yam O and Tung Chung sections of the North Lantau Expressway, while another $60 million will be used for the northern and southern sections of the Western Kowloon Expressway. The granting of the money will allow the MTRC to go ahead with track-laying works once China has given its approval, without drawing money from its own reserves. According to the request paper given to councillors, the money will be reimbursed to the Government when building of the railway begins. That would not be possible without China's blessing. As the deadlock over airport financing is unlikely to be resolved in the near future, it is understood the Government will give priority to the Chek Lap Kok airport construction, putting aside the airport railway. With the growing wealth Hong Kong is accumulating as a result of consecutive years of high surpluses, it is understood that officials have worked out that the Government can afford a much higher level of capital injection to fund the airport plan. But officials maintain that the extra money they can siphon off to the airport projects will not be large enough for the Government to undertake both the Chek Lap Kok facility and the rail link at the same time. If China's consent is not forthcoming soon, the building of the airport railway will likely be left to the Special Administrative Region (SAR) Government. Noting that the MTRC would not commit funding in an absence of a financing agreement, the paper said the Government could either opt for reimbursement or defer the work. But the second option would bring the consequences of additional cost, delay and disruption, it said. It is understood the difficulty for the MTRC is that without China's endorsement on its financing package, the corporation will have major difficulty raising funds in the international money market. Bankers are understood to have wanted a firm commitment from China before engaging in any loans to the railway corporation. Other parts of the $4.7 billion funding request cover $1.4 billion for Government facilities at Chek Lap Kok, including the installation of radar data processing and display systems and communications equipment. Another $1.3 billion would be used for work on the Lantau Fixed Crossing and $1.9 million for developments in North Lantau. Both the Liberal Party and the United Democrats have already said they are likely to support the request, which has been condemned by the Chinese. Delays in reaching agreement over the airport and rail link have prompted calls for the railway to be built in phases. But yesterday, the Secretary for Transport, Haider Barma, denied claims that $4 billion could be saved by doing so. The Government's estimate of a $2 billion loss for every six months' delay in the rail project was approximate and should be applied to its whole length, he said. Splitting construction into phases was not cost-effective. A link between Tsing Yi and Central alone would not attract many new passengers because roads already served the purpose. The United Democrats had said that the territory could save $4 billion a year by building the link in phases while waiting for Chinese approval. The link between Tsing Yi and Central would get priority, followed by work between Chek Lap Kok and Tsing Yi. Legislator Lee Wing-tat said, after a meeting with Mr Barma, the Tsing Yi to Central link would improve the traffic along Nathan Road and in the southwestern part of the New Territories. He also worried the land value of the reclamation in West Kowloon would suffer from the delay of a new railway.