Records are meant to be broken, but this particular one is not something that Hong Kong people would want to cheer.
On Tuesday, news surfaced that the estimate of the main construction works for the Shatin-Central Link (SCL), a new commuter rail link being put up by MTR Corp, has ballooned to HK$87.3 billion, making it the most expensive rail line ever in Hong Kong history.
The revised price tag for SCL puts it ahead of the controversial high-speed rail link to Guangzhou, which until now held the record in terms of the cost for Hong Kong taxpayers on rail projects.
The government had come under severe fire earlier for allocating HK$85.3 billion for construction of the local portion of the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link (XRL), but now the SCL commuter line will cost even more.
MTR, which operates Hong Kong’s rail system, on Tuesday submitted the latest cost estimate of the SCL project to the Transport and Housing Bureau, putting the figure at HK$87.3 billion, representing an increase of HK$16.5 billion, or 23 percent, over the original entrustment cost of HK$79.8 billion.
The transport bureau confirmed it has received the new estimate but declined to comment on the matter, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reports.
The Highways Department, on its part, said it will scrutinize the newly estimated amount by discussing it with its monitoring and verification consultant.
The department said it will critically examine the underlying assumptions and the basis of the estimate in accordance with the established practice in assessing public works projects, as well as ask MTR to provide supplementary information in the course of examination to see if there is sufficient justification for the revised cost estimate.
In a statement on Tuesday, the government said it will apply for additional funding from the Legislative Council in a timely manner upon completion of the examination and confirmation of the latest cost estimate, so that the rest of the works of SCL can be implemented and completed as planned.
Official data show that Legco’s Finance Committee had approved a total of HK$79.8 billion for the project so far.
An MTR source was quoted as saying that there are three main reasons for the cost increase: additional works caused by archaeological findings and preservation works at Sung Wong Toi Station (previously known as To Kwa Wan Station); additional cost arising from a delay in the handover of construction sites at Wan Chai North; and construction of additional facilities, such as footbridges and elevators.
Of the overshoot amount, 70 percent can be attributed to external factors, including the three mentioned above, while the rest results from internal factors, such as labor shortage and drilling problems, according to the source.
Asked if the cost will go up further, the source did not give a straight answer but only said that 80 percent of the overall works for SCL has been completed, HKEJ reported.
The section from Tai Wai in the New Territories to Hung Hom in Kowloon is expected to begin service in mid-2019 the soonest, and the section from Hung Hom to Admiralty is expected to begin service in 2021, the source said.
Noting that MTR has been doing its best for the project, lawmaker Michael Tien Puk-sun, who chairs the Legco’s Subcommittee on Matters Relating to Railways, said he can accept the fact that internal factors are to blame for 30 percent of the additional budget.
However, Tien demanded the government explain why the handover of construction sites to MTR was procrastinated since it was one of the main reasons that caused the budget to overshoot.
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