Over the past decade new Mass Transit Rail extension projects have been the backbone for the booming construction market in Hong Kong. The MTR rail system is already known as one of the world’s leading transport systems and it has been extensively expanded over recent years. The last decade alone has seen 5 major MTR extension projects including: Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link, a 26km high speed rail link, and the most recent 17km Shatin to Central Link project. HK$ Billions have already been invested to expand the network with a number of these huge construction projects still currently under construction.
As a number of these projects move towards final completion the question remains as to whether future MTR projects can create another construction boom in Hong Kong. Let’s take a look at the current progress of 2 of the largest ongoing MTR projects The Express Rail Link (XRL) and The Shatin to Central Link (SCL), and also the future of MTR projects in Hong Kong.
The Express Rail Link (XRL)
Several major MTR projects have experienced significant delays during the last few years, none more high profile and contentious than the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link (XRL) project. The XRL one of the biggest construction projects in Hong Kong worth HK$billons consists of approximately 26km of new railway. As with most major construction projects the XRL has experienced several technical and construction issues leading to significant delays. The extent of the problems on the project were significant including soaring labour costs, which have nearly doubled for most trades, since the original contracts were awarded back in 2010.
The XRL is scheduled for a test run from Hong Kong to Shenzhen by the middle of this year, with the route will be fully operational by late 2018, nearly 3 years late.
The Shatin to Central Link (SCL)
The most recent MTR expansion project – Shatin to Central Link (SCL), a 17-km rail link, with 10 stations costing HK$Billions has also experienced delays and construction difficulties. The cost for advance work on the SCL may rise to over HKS7billion after lawmakers recently gave initial approval to inject over HK$800 million into construction. The additional funds are needed for railway construction, ventilation facilities in Admiralty station and railway construction in Ho Man Tin station.
The reasons for the project’s budget overrun have been blamed on outdated reference data for the delay in the project; however it is thought the setback would not affect the completion target of 2021 for the link’s Hong Kong Island section.
Future Rail Strategy
The Railway Development Strategy 2014 (RDS2014) follows on from the previous 2000 strategy which looks at the viability and planning for the future expansion of Hong Kong’s railway network up until 2031. These future projects could help create another construction boom period in Hong Kong. The future railways extension projects will be subject to extensive engineering, environmental and financial studies including detailed assessment of available resources (labour, materials, expertise) to undertake a new wave of large scale rail expansion.
On completion of all the recommended schemes, the network could include the following new railway lines, extensions and stations:
- Northern Link and Kwu Tung Station – a major regional line formed by linking the Kam Sheung Road Station on the West Rail Line to a new station at Kwu Tung on the Lok Ma Chau Spur Line.
- Hung Shui Kiu Station – a new station on the West Rail Line between the existing Tin Shui Wai Station and Siu Hong Station.
- Tung Chung West Extension – formed by extending the Tung Chung Line westward with a new station at Tung Chung West.
- Tuen Mun South Extension – formed by extending the West Rail Line southward from the Tuen Mun Station to a new station at Tuen Mun South.
- East Kowloon Line – a new line running in the northern East Kowloon area connecting the Diamond Hill Station of the Kwun Tong Line (and the future Shatin to Central Link) and the Po Lam Station of the Tseung Kwan O Line.
- South Island Line (West) – a new line linking the South Island Line (East) to the West Island Line.
- North Island Line – a new railway line on the northern shore of the Hong Kong Island formed by extending the Tung Chung Line eastward and the Tseung Kwan O Line westward.
The new railway projects are all of relatively smaller scale compared to the recent 5 MTR extensions. In view of the fact that the railway network (taking existing lines and committed projects together) is already quite comprehensive there is no need for such large scale extensions like in previous years. If all the new projects recommended in the Strategy are completed, the total length of the railways will lengthen from 270 km in 2021 to over 300 km by 2031, and the number of stations in the whole network will increase from 99 in 2021 to 114 by 2031.
With a preliminary cost estimate of all the seven recommended railway schemes is in the order of HK$110 billion it looks like these projects could help create a large number of new job opportunities for construction professionals looking to work in Hong Kong.
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