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The Sha Tin-Central Link is set to become Hong Kong’s most expensive rail project in history. Photo: K.Y. Cheng

Years late and billions of dollars too expensive, here are Hong Kong’s budget black holes

The Sha Tin-Central rail link is to cost HK$16.5 billion more than expected, joining the ranks of the city’s other ill-fated mega infrastructure projects

With its latest HK$16.5 billion cost overrun, the MTR’s Sha Tin-Central Link is set to become Hong Kong’s most expensive rail project in history. But the project, to be completed in two phases between 2019 and 2021, is only one of a number of infrastructure developments in the city that have faced delays and budget overruns over the past few years.

These projects belong to an ambitious plan made by then chief executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen in 2007 to undertake 10 major public infrastructure developments.

“A rough estimate of the added value to our economy brought about by these projects, from commissioning to a mature stage, would be more than HK$100 billion annually, amounting to some 7 per cent of our GDP in 2006. In addition, some 250,000 additional jobs would be created,” Tsang said in his policy address that year.

Below are the problems some of these projects have since run into.

Song or Yuan dynasty monuments at the site of the Sha Tin-Central Link in Kai Tak. Photo: Handout

Sha Tin-Central Link

The biggest expansion of the MTR network since its inception in 1979, the 17km line consists of 10 stops, from the New Territories to Kowloon and across the harbour to Hong Kong Island.

The project has had to overcome a series of obstacles since construction began in 2012, including the discovery of historical artefacts dating back to the Song or Yuan dynasties, which delayed work by nearly a year.

A military shipwreck found near the site where the underwater tunnel would cross the harbour further hampered progress.

The mishaps have pushed the completion dates – from 2018 for the first section and 2020 for the cross-harbour segment – to 2019 and 2021 respectively.

The link was originally meant to cost HK$79.8 billion, but the MTR Corporation announced on Tuesday that an extra HK$16.5 billion was needed to cover surging labour costs and remedial measures, meaning the final bill – to be footed by taxpayers – could reach HK$97 billion.
The site of the future West Kowloon terminus of the high-speed rail link. Photo: Nora Tam

Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link

One of the most controversial projects ever undertaken in Hong Kong, the link will connect the mainland’s high-speed rail network to the city with a 26km extension from the Shenzhen border to the West Kowloon terminus.

After initial public funding of HK$66.9 billion in 2010, the cost has since ballooned to HK$84.4 billion, with the MTR Corporation – the project builder – agreeing to cover any additional costs.

The original operation date of 2015 was also twice delayed due to flooding and previously unforeseen technical challenges, with completion currently set for the third quarter of 2018.

The Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge will connect three cities in the Pearl River Delta. Photo: K.Y. Cheng

Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge

Under construction since 2009, the 55km link connecting the three cities in the Pearl River Delta will drastically cut travel time from Hong Kong to Zhuhai from three hours to just 30 minutes.
The project boasts a number of social and economic benefits and is key to the central government’s Greater Bay Area initiative to develop the region into a world-class technology hub.

Originally scheduled to open in 2016, the project was plagued by technical challenges, including the drifting of the artificial island, near Hong Kong airport, that housed the boundary crossing facilities.

Its cost estimate also missed the mark, with the latest revision in November suggesting another HK$11.8 billion was needed. The Hong Kong government is expected to absorb half of the bill.
With the completion of the South Island Line, the MTR finally covers all 18 districts in Hong Kong. Photo: Dickson Lee

South Island Line

A 7.4km MTR extension connecting Admiralty to Ap Lei Chau, the project was highly anticipated by both Southern District residents, who endure severe traffic congestion, and tourists visiting Ocean Park in Wong Chuk Hang. It enabled the MTR to cover all of Hong Kong’s 18 districts.

Due to unfavourable ground conditions and changes in design, the project’s completion date was pushed back from 2015 to December 28, 2016.

The cost also went up, albeit mildly, from HK$15.2 billion to HK$16.9 billion.

The West Kowloon Cultural District’s Xiqu Centre under construction. Photo: Roy Issa

West Kowloon Cultural District

Originating as early as in 1998, the idea of creating an arts and cultural precinct on 40 hectares of reclaimed land endured years of uncertainty in planning and policymaking.

The first design, which included a landmark canopy structure, was bulldozed in 2006, with the current plan finalised only in 2011, together with a one-off public cash injection of HK$21.6 billion.

Despite plans to roll out the first phase facilities by 2015, large areas remain building sites and vacant at the moment.

The Xiqu Centre – a Chinese opera theatre – and the M+ Museum are slated for completion in 2018 and 2019, with the Palace Museum to follow in 2022.