Hong Kong MTR should build proposed Northern Link to serve new towns in the New Territories
- There’s no time to lose, with work on Kwu Tung and Fanling new development areas set to begin. Without the rail link, expect worse traffic jams towards downtown
Secretary for Development Michael Wong Wai-lun recently penned an article that was run in various newspapers, announcing the gazette for the first-phase infrastructural works for Kwu Tung North and Fanling North, thus signalling the beginning of the construction of these two new development areas.
Given the chronic shortage of land and housing in Hong Kong, and exorbitant rents for private homes, the two new areas would without doubt be key sources of land and housing supply in the medium to long term.
However, major development projects like these could encounter many challenges, one of which is the provision of adequate public transport. According to the government, the first batch of people will start moving into these two new areas in 2023 and, by the time development is completed, we expect to see a total of 190,000 residents living there, or almost 2.4 times the size of the population in Aberdeen on Hong Kong Island.
If road-based transport still remains the only means for residents to commute, this will lead to considerable pressure on the roads and highways in the Northeast New Territories.
Already, congestion during peak hours every morning and evening is not uncommon at all at the sections near Fanling, Sheung Shui, San Tin and Au Tau of the so-called New Territories Circular Road or Route No 9. Besides, we can expect extra transport needs from commuters who will work at the Hong Kong-Shenzhen Innovation and Technology Park at the future Lok Ma Chau Loop. Therefore, some sort of high-capacity mass railway transit should be considered.
At its website devoted to Kwu Tung North and Fanling North, the government recommends implementing “the proposed Kwu Tung Station on the Lok Ma Chau Spur Line” to enhance “the accessibility of the Kwu Tung area (including the planned population and existing residents in nearby areas)”. However, adding a new railway station in Kwu Tung might not be a desirable solution, as this will increase the passenger load on the East Rail Line.
Reviving the Northern Link bundled with Kwu Tung Station, as recommended in the Railway Development Strategy 2014, seems to be a long-term solution. Besides, the Northern Link can divert passenger flow from the East Rail to the East West Corridor of the Sha Tin-Central Link via an interchange station in Kam Tin.
Furthermore, the 2014 strategy points to the potential viability of extending the Northern Link to Fanling North. If this were the case, I urge the government and the MTR to start reviving this strategic rail line in advance of the full development of Kwu Tung North and Fanling North.
Ken Chu, group chairman and CEO, Mission Hills Group; national committee member, Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference