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Hong Kong high-speed rail

Hong Kong leader optimistic about future of high-speed rail link with mainland China, as record 78,000 catch trains on National Day

Chief Executive Carrie Lam expects Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link to be ‘more attractive’ option as people get used to idea

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 02 October, 2018, 2:00pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 02 October, 2018, 11:01pm

The newly opened high-speed railway connecting Hong Kong with mainland China is bound to “become more attractive”, even though passenger numbers have been lower than anticipated, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said on Tuesday.

The Hong Kong section of the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link was opened on September 23, and, according to the Immigration Department, about 78,000 people crossed the link’s West Kowloon checkpoint on China’s National Day holiday on Monday.

The figure – comprising 59,000 inbound travellers and 19,000 going outbound – set a new daily record since the line opened, just exceeding the 75,517 passengers it carried on its first day.

But the 78,000 figure was still below the government’s prediction of 80,000 passengers a day.

Mainland Chinese visitors accounted for more than 70 per cent of both the arrivals and departures. Before a weekly meeting of her cabinet, the Executive Council, Lam was asked if the line was falling short of expectations.

“The 80,000 passengers per day is not a sort of target, it’s a best estimate at the time, based on various factors,” she said. “If you ask me, I’d like this high-speed train to be able to serve more than 80,000 passenger trips every day.”

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Frederick Ma Si-hang, the MTR Corporation chairman, said on Tuesday the line’s performance on Monday was already “very close” to the government’s estimation.

“Don’t use this preliminary figure to pass judgment on the passenger flow,” Ma said. “Some people still don’t understand how convenient the line is, while some of my friends who travelled on this railway said they will do so again.

“Tour groups are also starting [to include this railway on their itinerary]. We will have more promotion projects coming up.”

Ma reiterated his main concern was that people would say the West Kowloon station was “too small after seven or 10 years”.

Lam believed it would take time for people “to get used to the convenience of this new piece of cross-border infrastructure”.

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“This high-speed [railway and its] West Kowloon terminus have huge prospects to attract more people to use it because we have yet to open this wonderful cultural facility called the West Kowloon Cultural District,” she said, in a reference to the project that will include concert halls, performance venues, and facilities showcasing visual art masterpieces as well as Chinese national treasures.

“With its various museums and cultural venues, it’s bound to be more attractive [to visitors] in the future. So, let’s look forward to a more attractive and more appealing high-speed train.”

The chief executive noted she was not worried about the railway’s financial prospects.

“We have put in pretty conservative estimates about the passenger trips,” she said. “It is unlikely we would need to subsidise the operation of this high-speed train.” But its operator, the MTR Corporation , should still “do all the necessary promotion to increase patronage,” Lam added.

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Speaking on an RTHK radio programme on Tuesday, Hong Kong Tourism Association executive director Timothy Chui Ting-pong said the high-speed line could become more popular if authorities allowed travel agencies greater access to its tickets.

“About 78,000 people per day was actually quite good when most of the cross-border tour groups are not taking the train,” Chui said.

The tourism leader said if smaller travel agencies wanted to buy high-speed rail tickets, they could only do so through 18 agencies designated by the MTR Corp. He believed it would be more attractive to smaller firms if they could purchase group tickets directly from the rail operator.

On Saturday, excavation works at a new station along Hong Kong’s costliest rail line, the HK$97.1 billion (US$12.4 billion) Sha Tin-Central link, resumed after officials approved the MTR Corp’s revision of the acceptable levels for subsidence.

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Asked on Tuesday whether the government’s approval came at the expense of public safety, Lam said authorities handled the matter in “a professional and scientific manner”.

“The government would definitely make sure that construction works are safe before allowing them to resume,” she said. “We will also do the same before the [rail facilities are] opened for residents’ use.”