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Hong Kong high-speed rail

High-speed rail link is a new chapter in the city’s development

Despite the technical hurdles, financing woes and political wrangling, the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link is finally ready to use. Whether it becomes another jewel in the city’s crown depends on whether we make the most of it

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 22 September, 2018, 10:37pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 22 September, 2018, 10:49pm

Never before has Hong Kong seen a more controversial infrastructure project than the cross-border high-speed railway. Over the past 10 years, it has overcome challenges one after another, the latest being the onslaught of the city’s strongest typhoon on record. The first passenger train is ready to depart from the West Kowloon Terminus on Sunday, albeit three years later than originally planned. It is time we set off and make the most of it.

The inauguration of the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link marks a new chapter in cross-border development. Although the local section only accounts for a small part of the national network, the city is, for the first time, linked with a system that the nation is so proud of. With direct services to 44 destinations, it is both symbolically and economically significant.

The achievement comes at great cost. With a price tag of HK$84.4 billion, the per-kilometre cost of the 26km rail link is said to be the world’s highest. The setbacks were also enormous, so much so that there were even calls to abandon the project. The city’s reputation as a showcase of world-class civil engineering has been damaged.

Hong Kong's first high-speed train makes maiden trip across border

Despite the technical hurdles, financing woes and political wrangling, the railway is finally ready to use. As we look back, the controversies, such as the marathon funding approval process, protests by displaced villagers, ballooning costs and delays, disputes over the joint checkpoints, glitches during trials, and questions over ticketing and luggage delivery were all milestones of progress. Some were hurdles along the tracks. Others were painful lessons. They underlined the challenges and our determination to succeed.

There are still issues of concerns ahead. For instance, passenger forecasts have been lowered by nearly 30 per cent to a daily 80,100, raising questions over the link’s financial viability. There are also calls to increase the destinations and frequencies of the service. No less important is the unprecedented co-location arrangement, under which part of the terminus has come under the mainland’s full jurisdiction. Whether it can withstand legal challenges and function in accordance with Hong Kong and mainland laws shall be closely watched. It is imperative that both sides adhere to the principle of “one country, two systems” and act within the law.

Just as the airport and cruise terminal have opened up new horizons over the past two decades, the new rail link is opening a new door of opportunities on the mainland. The airport is no doubt our showpiece; but the cruise terminal remains a work in progress. Whether the rail link will become another jewel in the crown and our new engine of growth depends on whether we make the most of it. Hopefully, it will soon prove to be something we can be proud of.