One of the main sections of the problem-plagued Sha Tin to Central link, Hong Kong’s most expensive rail project, will be ready for its full opening by the end of next month pending final government approval, according to insiders.
Rail operator the MTR Corporation also plans to give Hong Kong’s coronavirus-ravaged economy a strong boost, investing HK$100 billion over the next decade on new railway and property projects.
Speaking before the rail giant’s annual general meeting on Wednesday, MTR Corp CEO Jacob Kam Chak-pui said the Tai Wai-Hung Hom section of the HK$90.7 billion (US$11.7 billion) link had completed all relevant tests and was awaiting government approval for its full opening after repeated delays and cost overruns.
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The section, known as the Tuen Ma line, is the city’s longest rail corridor running about 56km through 27 stations.
The section had been expected to open in mid-2019 after an earlier target of December 2018 was pushed back because of construction problems.
It was further delayed to the third quarter of this year to allow for reinforcement works at the scandal-hit Hung Hom station, where a whistle-blower had revealed shoddy work.
“Like everyone, we hope to see the opening of the Tuen Ma line as soon as possible,” Kam said. “The trial run and the relevant tests have been going smoothly while the full-line train tests have been completed. We are awaiting the government’s approval for its opening.”
Lawmaker Michael Tien Puk-sun, former chairman of the Kowloon-Canton Railway Corporation, said there was a high chance the Tuen Ma line would open on June 27. He believed the other section, from Hung Hom to Admiralty, could be delayed to the second or third quarter of next year.
The first section of the Tuen Ma line connecting Wu Kai Sha and Kai Tak by way of Tai Wai, Hin Keng and Diamond Hill opened in February last year. The imminent opening involves the rest of the line running from Kai Tak to Hung Hom through Sung Wong Toi, To Kwa Wan and Ho Man Tin.
Hong Kong Federation of Railway Trade Unions vice-chairman Tam Kin-chiu believed the Tuen Ma line would be ready for its full opening by the end of June.
“We received a new train schedule [for the end of June] for the connecting West Rail line so we believe this is to pave the way for the full opening of the Tuen Ma line,” he said, adding the union had been invited to visit the line’s operations on June 3.
An insider said it was very likely the line would be fully opened by the end of June as the project had passed all the key tests.
However, another source said officials had yet to decide on the exact opening date.
Officials also admitted completion of the cross-harbour section between Hung Hom and Admiralty, already pushed back from the fourth quarter of 2021 to the first quarter of 2022, could face further delays. Work had been affected by signalling system glitches for the connecting East Rail line in September last year.
“The project has been delayed by five months due to this signalling system incident. We are now working hard to catch up on the schedule. But it is very tough for us,” he conceded.
MTR Corp chairman Rex Auyeung Pak-kuen said over the next 10 years, the company expected to invest about HK$100 billion in new railway and property projects, including the Tung Chung line extension, Tuen Mun South extension, Kwu Tung station, the Northern link and property development atop Siu Ho Wan Depot.
“We are talking about a very big investment reaching HK$100 billion. We believe that we are capable of carrying out these projects,” he said.
Kam added the corporation expected to create jobs and business opportunities through the infrastructure investment, with financing for the projects coming from its accrued profits and bank loans.