Mass Transit Railway Corporation

Hong Kong’s MTR Corp nears partnership to develop properties for China’s ‘largest landlord’ 

City’s railway operator is full speed ahead as it looks to develop malls and housing with China Railway Corp and signs deal with Manila university

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 25 April, 2018, 7:03am
UPDATED : Monday, 28 May, 2018, 9:27pm

Hong Kong’s rail operator plans to develop property above train stations in mainland China, a move that will further export its business model across the border, its top executive has said.

MTR Corp chairman Frederick Ma Si-hang said on Monday in Manila the two companies were “conducting preliminary studies” to see whether his company could lead the development of malls and residential projects atop train stations owned by China Railway Corp in major cities.

The collaboration would give MTR Corp a leg up when it came to bidding on projects controlled by China Railway Corp, Ma said. 

“They are impressed by our business model of rail plus property,” Ma said. 

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China Railway Corp, which was formerly the Ministry of Railways, disclosed at the Beijing Equity Exchange in August that it had 6.8 billion square metres of land, including 300 million sq m earmarked for development. 

The land reserve made the group the largest landlord in mainland China, surpassing developer Evergrande Group with some 276 million sq m.

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“They are already very good at operations as they manage some 25,000 kilometres of high-speed railway on the mainland. What we may help is the development of properties. We may invest as well,” Ma said.

While Ma refused to disclose more details about the collaboration, he cited MTR Corp’s deal with the operators of Beijing’s underground railway – the Beijing Infrastructure Investment Corp and the Beijing MTR Corp – as a prior example of his company’s work in mainland China. 

In November 2016, MTR signed an agreement with the companies to conduct preliminary studies on developing properties above “selected existing station and depot sites” along Beijing Subway Line 4 and the Daxing Line.

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“We are replicating what we are doing on the Siu Ho Wan MTR Depot in Beijing – relocate the depot and build about 14,000 flats above it,” Ma said. 

“We told the Beijing companies their stations are located in some prime spots and they shouldn’t waste the potential. Therefore they decided to work with us.” 

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The Beijing Subway Line 4 and Daxing Line have a combined length of 50km with 35 stations, forming one of the main north-south underground rail arteries in Beijing. 

Ma said MTR and the China Railway Corp were “looking mostly at big cities [in mainland China] and also some smaller cities”, such as Shunde and Foshan, which are close to Guangzhou South Station along the cross-border, high-speed railway connecting Hong Kong with the mainland Chinese cities of Shenzhen and Guangzhou.

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In a separate interview with the Post on Monday, Ma revealed such cooperation could lead to a pilot project in which a “Hong Kong Town” could be built in areas near Nansha and Shunde, which are close to the high-speed rail stations, to address the city’s housing shortage. 

On Tuesday, MTR Academy, the company’s training and research wing, took one step further by tapping into opportunities that relate to China’s “Belt and Road Initiative”, Beijing’s plan to boost global trade by building a new Silk Road. 

The academy signed a memorandum of understanding with Feati University in Manila, in which it would help the university develop its own training curriculum for railway professionals and executives, and educate trainers.

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This was the third such programme the academy had launched in Asean countries, following one in Kuala Lumpur and another in Bangkok, according to Morris Cheung, the academy’s president.

Adolfo Jesus Gopez, president of Feati University, said four engineering and technology undergraduate programmes focused on railways would be launched as soon as August, each aiming to admit 30 to 35 students.

“This is an organised effort to produce the first railway-oriented programmes in Philippines,” Gopez said. “We have seen a lot of railway projects coming and there are several hundred openings in the area home and abroad.” 

Additional reporting by Olga Wong