People in Hong Kong will be able to travel directly to over a dozen mainland cities by the high-speed rail line every day once it starts operations, according to a pact signed by the government on Monday.
Witnessed by Chief Executive Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, Secretary for Transport and Housing Frank Chan Fan and Director of the General Office of China Railway Corporation Han Jiangping signed the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on the Arrangements for Preparation of Key Operational Issues for the Hong Kong Section of the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link.
Under the pact, both parties plan to operate 127 train pairs daily – 114 will be short-haul trains and 13 for long haul – at the early stage of commissioning, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reports.
The short-haul trains will run between West Kowloon Station and the Futian, Shenzhen North, Humen and Guangzhou South stations.
Passengers who take direct long-haul trains can reach 14 mainland cities, including Beijing, Shanghai, Kunming, Guilin, Guiyang, Shijiazhuang, Zhengzhou, Wuhan, Changsha, Hangzhou, Nanchang, Fuzhou, Xiamen and Shantou.
Chan told media after the signing ceremony that the train numbers are based on estimations of passenger demand at peak time, which accounts for about one-third of operating hours.
The number of long-haul trains and the stations where they will stop may be increased in the future, Chan said.
While the MoU does not specify fares – the main concern of the riding public aside from train frequency – it points out that both Hong Kong and the mainland will share the fare income according to the distance traveled by the trains in each other’s territory.
That suggests the mainland will take the lion’s share with Hong Kong gaining the rest as the Hong Kong section of the Express Rail Link is only 26 kilometers long.
For example, if the fare from West Kowloon Station to the Guangzhou South Station, a 142-kilometer distance, is set at HK$260, as Chan had revealed earlier, Hong Kong will only get HK$47 or 18 percent.
To ease concerns, Chan stressed that income sharing will be based not only on distance traveled but will also take into consideration other costs, including car maintenance as well as operation of stations and rail tracks.
However, he did not answer the question as to whether the HK$84.4 billion spent by the government on the project can really be recouped.
After learning of the provisions of the MoU, Civic Party lawmaker Tanya Chan Suk-chong accused the government of breaking its promises regarding the operation of the cross-border railway. She noted, for example, that the number of long-haul trains at peak time has been reduced to 13 pairs, from the 33 it said before.
Lawmaker Michael Tien Puk-sun from political group Roundtable said the HKSAR government should try to get a bigger share of the fares, and strive for at least HK$100 (out of the HK$260 fare from West Kowloon Station to the Guangzhou South station).
Meanwhile, Secretary for Justice Teresa Cheng Yeuk-wah told a special Legislative Council meeting on Monday that the government hopes the bill regarding the co-location arrangement for the XRL could be passed before the summer recess so that train services can start in the third quarter as scheduled.
The Legco is set to begin the first reading of the bill on Wednesday,
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