18 August 2019
A cross-border high-speed train waits for passengers at the West Kowloon terminus in Hong Kong after the service was launched on Sept. 23. The rail line helps push China’s plan for greater linkages with the Greater Bay Area. Photo: Reuters
A cross-border high-speed train waits for passengers at the West Kowloon terminus in Hong Kong after the service was launched on Sept. 23. The rail line helps push China’s plan for greater linkages with the Greater Bay Area. Photo: Reuters

Why we need rail investments

Hong Kong saw two key infrastructure facilities put into operation within the span of a month. One was the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link (XRL) and the other was the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge (HZMB).

The XRL, which began service on Sept. 23, links Hong Kong’s rail service to the mainland’s vast high-speed railway network, whereas the HZMB, the opening ceremony of which was held on Oct. 23, will boost the links and promote integration into the Greater Bay Area.

As we all know, the two mega projects are aimed to enhance Hong Kong’s connection with the mainland economically and socially, as well as in political and military terms.

The XRL and the “co-location arrangement” implemented in the West Kowloon terminus will break down the barrier of the Shenzhen River and enable unlimited human flows between Hong Kong and the mainland.

The HZMB, meanwhile, is like a pair of pincers that binds the western part of Hong Kong, Zhuhai and Macau closer together, thereby forming a “one-hour living circle” within the Greater Bay Area.

If we look at the entire blueprint, it becomes apparent that the “one-hour living circle” could change our previous norms and open up a new chapter for Hong Kong.

Infrastructure projects are, in fact, investments in our future. And as far as railways are concerned, they are like blood vessels that transport nutrients throughout the human body.

To put it in a global context, the mode of transportation is often a reflection of the level of economic development and population density of a particular country.

Take the United States and Canada as examples. The two countries are so huge in size but at the same time so sparsely populated.

As a result, over the years, private vehicle have become the dominant means of transport for most Americans and Canadians — for families in general, and even the grassroots.

And when they want to travel long distances within their countries in a short period of time, they often travel by air.

However, both air travel and driving your own cars are expensive modes of transport, thanks to high jet fuel prices and huge consumption of vehicle gasoline, and are therefore hardly affordable in backward regions or developing countries.

Given that, for countries that are densely populated and desperately in need of developing a mass public transportation system in their urban areas, railways have proven a good and viable option.

This is exactly why China is embracing railways as its main means of public transportation.

In fact ever since the mainland economy has begun to take off, the government has been embarking on a massive and nationwide project of constructing railways in order to shorten the distance between cities and facilitate economic activities.

And railways across the mainland have already become the new social momentum.

Linking Hong Kong’s railway to the mainland’s high-speed rail network through the XRL might have given rise to political concerns, but economically speaking, it is definitely a positive element as far as the city is concerned.

Unfortunately, railway development projects in Hong Kong have been plagued by serious delays and cost overruns in recent years.

Worse still, the progress of new railway projects in the city, if anything, has been disappointing, not least because of the mismanagement of the railway operator, and the government’s lack of resolve in pressing ahead with new projects.

Consequently, the two major studies on railway development carried out by the administration in 2000 and 2014 have virtually come to nothing.

Perhaps one shouldn’t have been surprised by that at all, considering that the MTR Corporation, Hong Kong’s sole railway operator, has seen two massive management overhauls in the past three years, which apparently have affected the progress of the railway development.

Yet even so, the society cannot afford to dodge the issue and turn a blind eye to the necessity of building new railways.

The Hong Kong government has always claimed that it is not afraid of taking the bull by the horns over policy issues, whether it is the debate over splitting the Transport and Housing Bureau or to set up a new Railway Bureau.

It’s time for the administration to prove its determination to invest in the city’s future.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Oct 27

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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HKEJ contributor

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