Following is the speech by Secretary for Transport, Mr Nicholas Ng, at the opening of The 5th International Exhibition of Railway Technology for the Asian Markets Exporail (Asia) 2000 this morning(May 3):
Mr. Brooks, Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am delighted to have the opportunity today to address this exhibition on railway technology jointly organized by the Interfama Brooks and the various professional institutions. The strong attendance of distinguished community leaders, professionals, academics and industry organizations at today's conference underlines the importance of railway development in Asia.
Our Transport Policy:
I trust that many overseas delegates have enjoyed the quality ride of the Airport Railway and other public transport services in getting to the exhibition venue. Hong Kong is a city enjoying high mobility. Everyday, our public transport system handles almost 11 million passenger trips. Our aim is to provide a safe, efficient, reliable and environmentally friendly transport system which meets the economic, social and recreational needs of our community. Last year, we promulgated "Hong Kong Moving Ahead - A Transport Strategy for the Future" which focuses on a "5-better" strategy. First, we will ensure better integration of the transport and landuse planning. Second, we will continue to make better use of railway as the backbone of our passenger transport system. Third, we will continue to provide efficient public transport services and facilities. Fourth, we will make better use of advanced technologies in transport management. Fifth, we will adopt transport initiatives that will result in better environmental protection.
Railways play a key role in the "5-better" strategy. They are efficient mass carriers and they are speedy, reliable, comfortable and environmentally friendly. We have a conscious policy to accord priority to railways in our transport policy and our development.
Since the 1970's, Hong Kong has completed a railway network stretching to about 143 kilometres and some 55 per cent of the total population are now within walking distance of the rail stations. Currently, the network carries about 3.5 million passenger trips every day and accounts for more than 30% of the total public transport patronage. The foresight of our transport planners a quarter of a century ago has enabled Hong Kong to enjoy the sustained mobility and prosperity of today.
Following the first comprehensive Railway Development Strategy we published in 1994, we are now actively planning and implementing six new railways for completion between 2002 and 2005. They are the West Rail, the MTR Tseung Kwan O Extension, the Ma On Shan to Tai Wai Rail Link, the East Rail Extension to Tsim Sha Shui, the Sheung Shui to Lok Ma Chau Railway Spur Line and the Penny's Bay Rail Link, known otherwise as the Disney Link. Their total investment amounts to more than HK$110 billion. Completion of these railways by 2005 will be a milestone for Hong Kong's public transport system and developments. The network will expand by more than 40 per cent to over 200km and its catchment will cover more than 70 per cent of the total population. Accordingly, the rail share in public transport patronage will increase to about 38 per cent.
At that time, the new towns in the eastern and north-western parts of Hong Kong will all have rail connections to the urban areas. An additional land boundary crossing will be in place to cope with the cross-boundary traffic which has been growing at over 15 per cent per year in the last four years due to the increased linkage with the Mainland. Tourists can also take a dedicated rail link to the Hong Kong Disneyland at Penny's Bay.
Second Railways Development Study (RDS-2):
But our railway development programme should not and will not stop here. Our population of 6.5 million is forecast to grow to almost 9 million in 2016. The limited and scattered flat area in Hong Kong's hilly terrain will need to be turned into homes for the additional population. In order to support this growth in population and the economy in an environmentally acceptable manner and, in view of the long lead time required for railway implementation, we need to plan ahead. For this reason, the Government has commissioned a consultancy study to look at the next phase of railway development for Hong Kong. The Second Railway Development Study, which started in March 1998, is studying the next phase of railway projects which Hong Kong needs between 2006 and 2016.
This phase of railway projects aims to serve the new growth areas and meet the increase in transport demands due to increased linkage with the Mainland. We have looked at many component schemes which may be combined in various ways to form our desired network. These components include the North Hong Kong Island Line, the Fourth Rail Harbour Crossing, the East Kowloon Line, a second rail link for Shatin to the urban area, the Kowloon Southern Loop, the Northern Link, the West Hong Kong Island Line and others. The next era of railway development will expand our present network by 70 per cent to some 250km. More than 80 per cent of the total population will then fall within the rail catchment and the rail share will reach some 45 per cent of the public transport system which accounts for 85 per cent of the total trips. RDS-2 represents potential railway development amounting to some HK$80 billion at today's prices.
We expect to complete RDS-2 very soon. By then, we will map out a clearer blueprint of the way forward of the railway development and how best to implement them in phases to serve developments and their transport needs in a timely manner.
While the strategic planning of railways is undertaken by the Govenrment, railways in Hong Kong are built and operated by either one of the two public railway corporations, the Mass Transit Railway Corporation (MTRC) and Kowloon-Canton Railway Corporation (KCRC). Although they are fully owned by the Government, they operate in accordance with prudent commercial principles. They are amongst the very few railways in the world, which are profitable without direct Government subsidy. We have recently enacted the necessary legislation to partially privatise the MTRC. On the one hand, the privatization will allow the public to invest in the successful enterprise. On the other hand, it will provide MTRC with an alternative source of financing and will reinforce the commercial principles under which the corporation has operated successfully. I am confident that the part-privatization will open up a new phase in our railway service.
In light of the merits from the transport perspective and the positive sentiments on all fronts, railways' strategic role as the backbone of the transport system will no doubt continue. Hong Kong has a proven record in implementing major capital projects. Building on the experience, we are confident in proceeding with our railway development plan to keep Hong Kong moving into the 21st Century. It is obvious that in the years to come, our railway development programme will create substantial opportunities for the managerial, professional and technical levels in the years ahead. International and local companies in the private sector will have ample opportunities to participate in the design and implementation of these railway projects. Many of you present today are leaders in the relevant fields and trades and your participation in the railway development programme at various stages would be most valuable. I look forward to sharing experience and views with all of you and would like to thank the hosts for providing the forum today for such purpose. With a massive rail development programme involving six projects and costing over HK$100 billion under active planning and implementation and planning for completion between 2002 and 2005, Hong Kong is indeed a perfect place for cross-fertilization of rail technology and investment opportunities to take place. I wish all participants an invaluable and successful event. Thank you.
End/Wednesday, May 3, 2000