Government to shoulder HK$37b Sha Tin-Central Link costs The final piece of a puzzle that will complete two mega-railway corridors finally fell into place when the Executive Council gave the green light for the long-stalled Sha Tin to Central rail line yesterday. Delayed by the merger talks between the MTR Corp and the Kowloon-Canton Railway Corporation, the line - originally scheduled to start operating this year - will now be completed in 2019. The government said yesterday it would adopt a 'service concession approach' for the project. This meant it retained ownership of the line by shouldering the entire HK$37.4 billion construction cost. It would lease the line to the MTR Corp for 50 years, for an estimated return of HK$91.8 billion. Secretary for Transport and Housing Eva Cheng said such an approach would put the government in a better position when renegotiating with the MTR Corp on the renewal of the lease for the operating rights for the former KCRC network, including East Rail and West Rail, which also expires in 50 years. Lawmakers and analysts welcomed the decision, saying the government would enjoy greater freedom over the line's financing and get to keep valuable land at Diamond Hill that was originally tipped to be granted to the MTR Corp to subsidise the rail operator for building the line. The MTR Corp has requested another site in Ho Man Tin - estimated to be worth more than HK$7.8 billion - to subsidise the Kwun Tong extension, a key east-west connection that is not included in the Sha Tin to Central Link's funding arrangement. The 3km extension - from the existing Yau Ma Tei station to Whampoa via the Sha Tin link's new Ho Man Tin station - is estimated to cost HK$4.2 billion, but the funding gap between its construction cost and revenue would be HK$2.2 billion. Ms Cheng said the government would study the proposal to make sure the subsidy did not exceed the funding needed for the extension. The 17km rail link will be completed in two sections. The first part, comprising seven stations - Tai Wai, Diamond Hill, Kai Tak, To Kwa Wan, Ma Tau Wai, Ho Man Tin and Hung Hom - is expected to be completed in 2015. The Kwun Tong extension will be built at the same time. Ms Cheng said completion of these two lines would open up rail traffic between the east and west. Together, the lines will connect the Ma On Shan Line and West Rail to form a mega east-west corridor. 'It is like activating a blood vessel that used to be blocked.' Commuters will save 14 minutes on a trip between Wu Kai Sha and Tuen Mun, while travelling time between Whampoa and Mong Kok will be cut from 25 to five minutes. However, two of the stations originally proposed in the project - Tze Wan Shan and Central South, were removed from the plan due to geographical difficulties. Ms Cheng said the government would reconsider another possible location for the Central South station after the Central Government Offices moved to Tamar in 2012. The second section of the link - from Hung Hom to Admiralty - will be completed four years after the first section. The delay is due to reclamation concerns and the second-phase of the Wan Chai promenade redevelopment, which is still being planned. When the link is completed, it will create a north-south corridor that will allow passengers to reach Hong Kong Island directly from Lo Wu without having to switch trains.