18 January 2019
Depending on who you ask, you'll get faster to Guangzhou from Hong Kong on the Express Rail Link than by plane. Photo: CNS
Depending on who you ask, you'll get faster to Guangzhou from Hong Kong on the Express Rail Link than by plane. Photo: CNS

Enough of the dumb comparison between plane and express rail

Hong Kong people are lucky to have a government that is willing to spend hundreds of billions of dollars to build two major transport infrastructure projects — the Express Rail Link and the third airport runway. And now, Hong Kong people are facing a problem of choice — whether taking a plane or a high-speed train is faster to get to the great mainland.

The government news service published a post on its social media page early this week, saying passengers will enjoy a faster journey from Hong Kong to Guangzhou by taking a high-speed train than flying. Many Hong Kong people were surprised by the assertion given most of them will not fly to Guangzhou as it is much more convenient for them to take a cross-border bus or through train. Flights to Guangzhou mostly serve transit passengers from other cities.

The government said it only takes 48 minutes from Hong Kong to Guangzhou on the high-speed train. The journey is also faster to other Chinese cities including Beijing and Shanghai. But the fact is, it will take nine hours to travel to Beijing by high-speed train.

On the other hand, a document issued by the Airport Authority on the third runway says passengers will spend much more time traveling by high-speed train to 10 selected cities than by flying. It adds that the high-speed train journey from Hong Kong to Beijing, Chongqing, Xian, Chengdu and Kunming has no competitive advantage: it takes two hours longer than a flight. The document also says that a flight to Nam Cheong, Fuzhou, Shanghai and Hangzhou is faster than a high-speed train travel.

Activist Tam Hoi-bong criticised the government for lacking a unified cross-border transport plan and accused it of building a high-speed train that can only benefit short-haul travelers. As for passengers going outside Guangdong, they will still continue to stick with flight services given more choices and much shorter journey time.

Such a comparison shows the government preferred flights over high-speed train when the Airport Authority was planning a new runway. But when the government needed to win public support for a co-location arrangement for the Express Rail Link, it said train is better than flight.

That said, such statement is based on political perspective, not professional judgment.

While the government continues to stress the importance of a co-location arrangement at the West Kowloon terminus of the cross-border Express Rail Link between Hong Kong and Guangzhou, the opposition on Wednesday jointly established a Co-location Concern Group to drive public awareness of the controversial policy. But what can the group do to bring the topic to the grassroots other than raising legal issues?

How can the opposition lead the public debate on the much hyped economic benefits of the Express Rail Link for Hong Kong?

The group, which was formed by 94 members including lawmakers, legal experts and scholars, urged the government to stop spreading misleading information about the Express Rail Link and the co-location arrangement and to launch a public consultation immediately.

At the core of the debate is a scheme in which Chinese officials will be allowed to enforce mainland laws at the West Kowloon terminal in violation of the Basic Law.

The group is planning a street campaign as well and forums to raise public awareness of the issue. It is hoping to gather signatures from more than 300,000 citizens opposed to the plan.

But it could be quite difficult for the alliance to win over the government in the public opinion war given the resources at the government’s disposal.

For example, the pro-Beijing Oriental Daily News ran a front-page story that said it takes only nine minutes for passengers to complete the cross-border immigration and customs check at the West Kowloon terminus. Such a story could impress the public, especially those who have no professional or legal background to understand the mechanics of the co-location arrangement.

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EJ Insight writer

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