'Hong Kong will become the southern gateway to the nation's high-speed rail network with the approval yesterday of a HK$39.5 billion plan to build an express rail link to the border.' SCMP, April 23 This project had a cost figure of HK$15 billion when first mooted. It is now HK$39.5 billion, even before the detailed surveying gets under way. Any takers on HK$60 billion before the first concrete is poured? Let's do an item by item review of some of the things said about this white elephant in our report on the news yesterday: 'Services will begin in 2015, halving the journey time to Guangzhou to 48 minutes.' Well, not quite to Guangzhou. The existing rail link may take you to the centre of the city but the terminus for this new one will be the Shibi station, well south of the city centre. And not quite to Hong Kong either. The terminus on our side will be somewhere in West Kowloon, at present the site of much compacted mud and little else aside from government promises of a transport hub. This it will indeed have to be, as there is no reason to stay there. When you get off this new train, you will want to find something else to get on again immediately. ''We are optimistic about this line as we expect users of the line to include patrons of the West Kowloon arts hub.'' That was Transport and Housing Secretary Eva Cheng speaking and I am now obviously compelled to withdraw, retract and take back my previous comment that there is nothing to do in West Kowloon. Within just a few years, West Kowloon will be the featured site of Brazilian pottery exhibitions and shows of Romanian modern art. I can't wait and neither, obviously, can millions of mainland tourists. Our transport facilities in that part of Kowloon will be inundated, just swamped, you hear me, by the throngs waiting to get through the turnstiles of those art museums. We need that new rail link now. Thank you for seeing the need in time, Ms Cheng. 'Trains will operate at an average speed of 200 km/h.' Elsewhere we have that as a maximum speed and I also see a reference to a maximum speed of 160 km/h within Hong Kong, which isn't really very high at all for a train. But you know the sudden ka-pop you feel in your ears when the Airport Express gets to the tunnel at Tsing Yi. This new line will be mostly tunnel and I wouldn't mind hearing what aerodynamics engineers have to say about energy bills, leave alone sore ears, when a train pushes a column of air through a long and narrow tunnel at more than 200 km/h. Oh, but of course we don't need to build it as a narrow tunnel. We'll build it big and wide, Chunnel style, with cost overruns to match. 'The MTR is expected to pay HK$28.1 billion for the operating rights.' Well, of course it was the MTR Corp that got stuck with this one. In case you hadn't realised it, our bureaucrats have long given up on even the pretence that the MTR is a joint stock company with obligations to give its private shareholders a proper return on their investment. As another joke, the government assumes there will actually be a profit from this line. They haven't even come up with a fare structure yet. They first have to negotiate it with mainland authorities, which will mean low fares, particularly as mainland authorities don't care about petty things like cost and Hong Kong is committed to it anyway. Eva, I have a question for you. If the government is to take most of the profits (hah-hah), is it also prepared to compensate the MTR for net losses? And, by the way, madam, have you taken into account that the MTR's existing East Rail service makes all its money by stinging passengers outrageously when their final destination is the border? If this new line undercuts the East Rail fare structure with its stop in Shenzhen, you will have another financial drain on the MTR to take into account. If not, you will have to take account of rising competition from much cheaper cross-border bus services. Have you thought about these conundrums? Let's be frank about it. We are to build this line because Beijing wants a high-speed rail network across the country. This has more to do with national pride than with economic sense, but we in Hong Kong are happy to fall in line because our government needs to keep functional constituencies sweet, which is done by wasting taxpayers' money on otherwise pointless infrastructure projects. We have the money, however, as we have the obligation to be obsequious to Beijing bureaucrats and the need to keep political factions with crucial votes quiet this way. I understand it. I only wish that just once it would be billed for what it is.