Hot Topics: What to know about the cross-harbour section of Sha Tin-Central link that just opened

Published: 
  • After repeated delays and cost overruns, the Hung Hom-Admiralty section of the Sha Tin to Central link commenced operation on May 15
  • However, Hong Kong’s bus and minibus operators say they are dreading the loss of business to the East Rail line extension
Doris Wai |
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With the completion of the Sha Tin to Central link, Admiralty station is now a core interchange for the cross-harbour rail lines. Photo: Sam Tsang

Hot Topics takes an issue being discussed in the news and allows you to analyse different articles and viewpoints on the subject. Our questions encourage you to examine the topic in-depth – they can be used on your own or with a friend.

Context: Cross-harbour section of Hong Kong’s most expensive rail project opens

The Hung Hom-Admiralty section of the long-overdue Sha Tin to Central link, Hong Kong’s most expensive rail project yet, fully opened to the public yesterday.

This opening marks the end of a scheme afflicted by repeated delays and cost overruns. The section is known as the cross-harbour extension of the East Rail line from Hung Hom station to Admiralty station, via the new Exhibition Centre stop in Wan Chai.

The East Rail line is the fourth cross-harbour railway route directly connecting the northeastern New Territories, central Kowloon and Hong Kong Island. Admiralty station is also now a mega interchange station for the East Rail line, Tsuen Wan line, Island line and South Island line.

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Travel times will also be shorter with the new extension. Using a new signalling system, the nine-car trains on the extended East Rail line will run at 2.7-minute intervals during peak hours.

Journeys between Tai Wai and Admiralty will take 17 minutes – this is 11 minutes faster than using indirect routes. A trip between Sheung Shui and Admiralty will take 40 minutes, 15 minutes less than the previous routing. A journey between Sha Tin and Causeway Bay will take 27 minutes compared with 36 minutes before.

Smart facilities called “Cross-Harbour Easy” are placed on Admiralty station’s concourse and interchange platform. They will show real-time train-waiting images for passengers to choose time-saving routes.

The new Exhibition Centre stop in Wan Chai connects Hung Hom station to Admiralty station. Photo: Nora Tam

To minimise overcrowding, a passenger information display system will show each train car’s loading capacity, so commuters can choose ones with more space. It will be at every platform on the line and on the MTR mobile app.

Fares for existing East Rail line trips remain unchanged. But travelling between Hung Hom and Exhibition Centre will cost HK$10.10, similar to other cross-harbour railways.

Passengers can also enjoy interchange discounts of HK$2 per trip using Octopus cards at designated franchised bus routes at Exhibition Centre station.

Staff writers

Question prompts:

  • Identify TWO benefits the Sha Tin to Central link might have for people’s lives. Explain.

  • Using your own knowledge, explain what might be one downside of using trains with nine cars instead of 12. Then, identify TWO measures mentioned in Context that address this concern.

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News: Troubles plaguing cross-harbour section of MTR Corp’s rail link

The opening of the remaining Hung Hom-Admiralty section of the long-overdue Sha Tin to Central link closes the final chapter of a saga plagued by shoddy work, repeated delays and cost overruns.

Early this month, Secretary for Transport and Housing Frank Chan Fan said tests and trial runs on the cross-harbour section of the 17km link had been completed, ahead of the revised target date in June or July.

He pledged to draw a lesson from past blunders related to the project, saying improvements were under way.

“We have enhanced our scrutiny and supervision of the project and related procedures,” he said.

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Jacob Kam Chak-pui, CEO of railway operator the MTR Corporation, said commuters would be able to travel from the northeastern New Territories to the heart of Hong Kong Island without changing trains, which would “energise the century-old rail service [the East Rail line]” and “keep Hong Kong moving”.

The corporation and its contractors were under investigation several times for their handling of the project, which was fraught with shoddy work and cover-ups. The government, as the project overseer, was also criticised for not detecting shortcomings quickly and taking firm action to ensure things were back on track.

The opening of the cross-harbour extension has been pushed back several times because of various issues, including shoddy work, rectification works at Hung Hom station, and vandalism of the connecting East Rail line by anti-government protesters during 2019’s social unrest.

The Tai Wai-Hung Hom section faced delays at Hung Hom station, where a whistle-blower revealed shoddy work. Photo: Sam Tsang

The link suffered cost overruns with a final price tag of HK$90.7 billion, HK$10 billion over the original budget.

Originally slated to open in December 2020, the date was pushed back to the fourth quarter of last year, and the target was changed again to the first quarter this year.

The MTR Corp announced last October that the project would be delayed for a third time until June or July this year because of setbacks caused by signalling glitches. The rail giant has since managed to reduce the delay.

The Tai Wai-Hung Hom section of the Sha Tin to Central link – part of what is now the Tuen Ma line – opened last June after repeated delays at Hung Hom station, where a whistle-blower revealed shoddy work.

Staff writers

Question prompts:

  • What did Jacob Kam mean when he said the new link would “energise the century-old” East Rail line and “keep Hong Kong moving”?

  • Some have criticised the Sha Tin-Central link for being costlier than the 26km local section of the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link, which cost HK$84.4 billion. Using News and your own knowledge, explain to what extent their criticisms are justified.

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Cartoon

Photo: SCMP

Question prompts:

  • What problem mentioned in Context does the cartoon refer to?

  • Using information from News, list THREE factors that led to this problem.

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Issue: Bus, minibus operators brace themselves for ‘exodus’ of passengers with East Rail line MTR extension

The East Rail line MTR extension will allow commuters to get from parts of the New Territories to Central faster, with savings along some routes, but bus operators are dreading their loss of business.

Raising the concerns of major bus and minibus operators, lawmaker Michael Tien Puk-sun said KMB, Citybus and New World First Bus (NWFB) expected to lose an overall daily ridership of at least 100,000 when the new section opens.

“They will suffer an exodus of passengers. Just for the Cross-Harbour Tunnel routes at Hung Hom station, the bus operators told me, they will lose 30,000 passengers every day during peak hours,” he said.

Bus operators say they expect to lose thousands of passengers from the Cross-Harbour Tunnel routes at Hung Hom station. Photo: May Tse

Tien, former chairman of the Kowloon-Canton Railway Corporation (KCRC), said bus operators had to explore new routes in new towns or housing estates without nearby rail stations, and had to ask the Transport Department to reduce some bus services to rein in costs.

Chau Kwok-keung, chairman of the Hong Kong Taxi and Public Light Bus Association, said minibuses took a beating when the MTR’s Tuen Ma line opened in June last year, with routes between Hung Hom and Mong Kok or Kowloon City hit hard.

The opening of the new cross-harbour rail line would hit them again, he said. The city has about 4,228 minibuses.

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Chau urged the Transport Department to take back 21 bus routes being run by the MTR Corporation, and hand them to minibuses to operate.

Quentin Cheng Hin-kei, spokesman of the commuter concern group Public Transport Research Team, said he was concerned about the healthy overall development of public transport. If people flocked to the MTR, he said, the rail system would be overloaded.

To anticipate changes in commuters’ travelling patterns and demand, the Transport Department said it was cancelling cross-harbour bus route 301 from May 15, and would also consider scrapping special departure bus services at the Cross-Harbour Tunnel in phases.

Staff writer

Question prompts:

  • Besides taking back bus routes managed by the MTR, suggest ONE other way the Transport Department can help bus and minibus operators cope with the decline in passengers as a result of the East Rail line extension.

  • Using Issue and your own knowledge, explain why buses and minibuses are crucial for healthy public transport infrastructure in Hong Kong.

  • To what extent is the Transport Department responsible for making sure these bus and minibus operators continue to make money?

Get the word out

Bus operators in Hong Kong :

Citybus and New World First Bus (NWFB) account for about 30 per cent of Hong Kong’s franchised bus operations, with a 1,700-strong fleet and more than 210 routes. KMB, the city’s largest franchised bus operator, manages more than 420 routes with an average daily ridership of 2.44 million.

East Rail line :

one of 10 MTR lines in Hong Kong. As the first railway in the city, it started operating in 1910 as the KCR British Section until 1996, and the KCR East Rail from 1996 to 2007. Construction of the 17km Sha Tin to Central rail link began in 2012 and full service of the link commenced on May 15. The railway line now starts at Admiralty station on Hong Kong Island and branches in the north at Sheung Shui to terminate at Lo Wu or Lok Ma Chau stations.

Hung Hom-Admiralty section (of Sha Tin to Central link) :

opened on May 15, this 6km section extends the existing East Rail Line across the harbour to Wan Chai North and Admiralty. It will extend the rail line to 46km through 16 stations.

Real-time train-waiting images :

includes information that enables commuters to check train arrival time, get an indication of how long they will have to wait to board a train, and how crowded each train car is

Shoddy work :

refers to cases of corner-cutting in construction. In 2019, the MTR Corp revealed that reinforcement bars from two Hung Hom station platforms for the Sha Tin-Central link were found to be substandard. The MTR Corp had to break open at least 80 sections of the new platforms to ensure its structural safety was not compromised.

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