The MTR Corporation has amended its plans for the multibillion-dollar cross-border express rail link between Guangzhou and Hong Kong by shifting its route westwards to avoid densely built-up older districts in its southern Hong Kong section. The new alignment of the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link was published yesterday in a submission by the rail operator to the Environmental Protection Department. The corporation described the new alignment as 'optimised' after studying proposals to 'enhance the overall rail network for the benefits of the local community and by taking account of all interfacing projects and constraints'. The rail link will enhance Hong Kong's transport links with the mainland. Estimated to cost HK$39.5 billion, it is expected to shorten the rail journey to Guangzhou from nearly two hours to 48 minutes. The line, construction of which is expected to begin next year for operation by 2015, will run underground and there will be no station between its terminus in West Kowloon and Futian station in Shenzhen. The corporation said the length of the Hong Kong section of the line remained at 26km under the revised plan, but its southern section had been shifted westwards to avoid going underneath Sham Shui Po and Shek Kip Mei and their clusters of old buildings. Instead, the line would run under Nam Cheong, Lai Chi Kok and Kwai Chung. A graded historical building would now not face any effects from the project, but the old Lai Chi Kok Hospital was added to buildings that might be affected. Ventilation buildings for the line were also repositioned under the new plan. Affected areas might be exposed to noise during construction, which the MTR has pledged to mitigate. It said that in soft ground, the tunnel would be constructed mainly by a tunnel-boring machine, and drill and blast techniques in rock strata. 'The changes are made to avoid the areas with many buildings to minimise impacts on residents and the traffic,' said a spokeswoman, who could not say at this stage whether the change would lower or raise costs. She rejected suggestions that the move was to reduce potential effects of tunnelling on old and poorly maintained buildings in Sham Shui Po, saying the tunnel - at a depth of 30 metres - would have minimal effect on the land surface. Yau Tsim Mong district council member Chan Man-yau said the council had not been informed about the alignment changes, though the MTR Corp had agreed to report on progress next week. He said that while the council would need further details about the project to gauge the effects of construction on the district, he believed the new alignment might attract more complaints than the old one. 'The previous alignment would have gone beneath the old district. Now it will go through newly developed zones, and residents there will certainly make more noise about the project,' he said.