MTR Corporation will open a section of the Shatin to Central rail line in the first quarter of 2020, with the initial operations covering three stations, Transport Secretary Frank Chan Fan said on Thursday.
The government accepted an arrangement recommended by the rail operator that involves the commissioning of three new stations: Hin Keng Station, Diamond Hill Station Extension and Kai Tak Station, the official said.
That means the current Ma On Shan Line, which runs from Wu Kai Sha Station to Tai Wai Station, will be extended to Kai Tak Station.
At a press conference that was also attended by MTR’s chief executive Jacob Kam Chak-pui, Chan said the government “considers it necessary to partially commission the Tai Wai to Hung Hom Section so that the public can enjoy the benefits of the new railway as soon as possible.”
Laying out plans in relation to partial launch of service on the HK$97.1 billion Shatin-Central Link (SCL) rail project, Chan announced that the section from Wu Kai Sha Station to Kai Tak Station is now officially named as Tuen Ma Line Phase 1.
As for the Phase 2, namely from Kai Tak Station to Hung Hom Station, the service is scheduled to begin before the end of 2021, the transport chief said.
According to MTR’s operations director Adi Lau Tin-shing, once the Tuen Ma Line Phase 1 opens people can expect train services every three-and-a-half minutes during busy hours.
The travel time between Tai Wai to Diamond Hill will be shortened to seven minutes from 17 at the moment, which he believes can ease the heavy passenger flow currently faced by the East Rail Line.
While admitting that launching SCL service in phases may disappoint some citizens, Chan pointed out that, when traveling from Tai Wai Station to Kai Tak Station, trains will pass Diamond Hill Station, a point that can connect to the Kwun Tong Line.
Chan believes such arrangement will prove effective in alleviating passenger flow at the East Rail Line during rush hours.
The Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong (DAB), the largest political party in legislature, expressed disappointment over the news that the SCL will begin operations with only three stations.
Meanwhile, it is not yet known when the project’s last phase, which was designed to connect Hung Hom and Admiralty, will begin service, with Chan only telling media that more evaluation work will be conducted.
MTR estimated that the cost of structure enhancement work at Hung Hom and works related to phased opening will total about HK$2 billion, without counting potential claims by stakeholders for compensation.
Such extra expenditure may hurt the profit of the rail operator, which has set aside reserves worth HK$2.43 billion, going by the figures in its first-half financial report.
Chan said his department will follow up on the issue, saying it takes time to check who will be responsible for the additional costs.
Jacob Kam, who took over as MTR’s chief executive for a three-year term since April 1, admitted that a construction scandal pertaining to the SCL project has let people down, and vowed that the rail operator will do its best to regain public confidence.
Civic Party lawmaker Jeremy Tam Man-ho urged the government to activate the legal proceedings for compensation as soon as possible from Leighton Contractors (Asia), the entity responsible for building the underground platforms at Hung Hom Station, which saw substandard construction work.
Tam questioned whether MTR would be paying the extra costs of HK$2 billion out of its pocket. If that is the case, it would effectively mean that taxpayers are being asked to shoulder the burden, given that the government owns more than 70 percent stake in MTR, the lawmaker said.
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