MTR’s West Island Line will finally be ready for passengers by the end of this year.
But initially, the line, which will extend the existing Island Line from Sheung Wan to Sai Ying Pun, Hong Kong University and Kennedy Town, won’t stop at the first of the three stations, because work on the exits there won’t be completed in time.
In recent years, the embattled railway operator has never lacked for construction delays and cost overruns — from the still unfolding express rail link fiasco to the troubled Sha Tin-Central link, which has been held up by the discovery of numerous antiquities and monuments in To Kwa Wan.
Because of geological hurdles created by its location 50 meters underground, Sai Ying Pun Station won’t be ready for service until the first quarter next year.
But that should be soon enough for the hundreds of thousands of Sai Wan residents who have been awaiting train service for almost three decades.
When the Island Line was opened in 1985, it terminated at Sheung Wan instead of running farther to the west of Hong Kong Island.
The MTR, its finances already stretched by exorbitant construction costs back then, claimed there wouldn’t be sufficient patronage from those living in Sai Wan, saying most of the residents there were elderly people.
The rail operator also blamed poor geological conditions for its refusal to go farther west.
The West Island Line didn’t show up on the government’s agenda until 2007, when it was finally gazetted.
Construction of the three-kilometer line started two years later, and major civil works were finished early this year.
Some people compared the lengthy construction period unfavorably with that in mainland cities: Shanghai needed just four years to complete its 59-kilometer Line 16.
With the prospect of being connected to the rest of Hong Kong by the MTR system, Kennedy Town, previously a remote, low-income neighborhood on the western brink of the island, is now undergoing vibrant gentrification.
Uninviting facilities like the former abattoir and incinerator have been demolished to make room for waterfront high-rises, and mom-and-pop cha chaan teng (Hong Kong-style cafés) are giving way to fancy bars and western restaurants, thanks to a noticeable inflow of professionals and expatriates.
The Hong Kong Economic Journal reports that the unit prices of the flagship housing estates within the area have at least doubled in the past decade.
For instance, a home at The Belcher’s, an upmarket residential development by a consortium consisting of Sun Hung Kai Properties (00016.HK), New World Development (00017.HK) and Sino Land (00083.HK) that will have direct access to Hong Kong University station, now sells at HK$18,000 (US$2,321) per square foot, compared with HK$7,808 in 2005.
A spate of newly finished or ongoing developments — Imperial Kennedy by Sun Hung Kai Properties, The Hudson by Henderson Land Development (00012.HK), Belcher’s Hill by New World Development, Lexington Hill by Wheelock Properties, Harbour One by Emperor Properties, and Cadogan by Kowloon Development (00034.HK) — has mushroomed in Kennedy Town.
Despite the better transport link, some residents are unhappy about the changes, as the arrival of the new rail line has also been the impetus for rent hikes.
Monthly rent for a tiny unit in a partitioned flat in the old tenement blocks there — which had already risen as HKU students and new entrants to the workforce flocked to Kennedy Town to find a home — has surged to an average HK$5,000.
Sai Wan and Kennedy Town used to be a big draw for the grass roots because of the cheaper rent, but as landlords begin to dictate the price and would-be tenants fall over one another trying to secure a flat, some of those residents may be forced to relocate to cheaper places further to the southwest, like Tin Wan or Aberdeen.
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