High-speed Hong Kong rail link has to be on right track
When it comes down to ticket prices and services, the authorities must get their numbers right on the HK$84 billion connection between West Kowloon and Guangzhou
Compared to the raging joint checkpoint row or the cost overrun debacles of the cross-border high-speed rail link, the fares announced by the Hong Kong government this week are certainly less contentious. But they are no less important and affect the willingness of travellers to use the service and, ultimately, the viability of what is said to be the world’s most expensive rail link. The authorities must ensure they get their numbers right.
In a joint decision with the China Railway Corporation, a ticket to Guangzhou South stationwill cost HK$260, HK$50 more than the existing through train from Hung Hom to Guangzhou East.
Trips to Shenzhen Futian and Shenzhen North will cost HK$80 and HK$90 respectively.
The fares are not just 24 per cent to 58 per cent higher than the estimates by the government in 2016; they are also more expensive compared with cross-border buses and ferries.
Transport and housing chief Frank Chan Fan is adamant that the express rail fares are attractive, because the journey will be quicker and more comfortable. But whether it is worth the price is open to debate. The existing alternatives are also competitive in terms of fares and service quality.
Also affecting competitiveness are the train frequencies as well as the connections beyond Guangzhou. According to Chan, there will be 228 services running daily between Hong Kong and the mainland stations on 130 peak days during the year. Frequent as it seems, most northbound trains will not go beyond the two Shenzhen stations. The frequencies during the rest of the year are unclear at this stage, as are fares for connections beyond Guangzhou.
Officials have warned of the express rail turning into a white elephant if travellers cannot enjoy the convenience of joint customs and immigration clearance under the co-location arrangement at the West Kowloon terminus. The same holds true if the rail link becomes just a little-used option to cross the border. What makes it worthwhile is the connection with the national rail network. Given we have spent nearly a decade and more than HK$84 billion on building the link, it is in the interests of Hong Kong and the country to make it a success.