Following is the speech by the Chief Secretary for Administration, Mrs Anson Chan, at the KCR West Rail, Phase I, Tai Lam Tunnel Breakthrough Ceremony today (April 2):
Mr Yeung, Distinguished guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,
First of all, KY, thank you for your very warm welcome and your very complimentary remarks about myself. Now you know why I am particularly pleased to be here this afternoon to officiate at the breakthrough ceremony of KCR West Rail's Tai Lam Tunnel.
Today's tunnel breakthrough marks a significant milestone in the construction of West Rail, and KY has just elaborated on its significance. We are also witnessing the completion of Hong Kong's longest transportation tunnel, the 5.5-km Tai Lam Tunnel. But I must declare that the cause of my own personal excitement is a very personal one: this is actually the first time that I have been invited to officiate at a tunnel breakthrough ceremony and it has taken nearly 40 years to secure this invitation. My husband, Archie, was in awe when I told him I would activate a blast in the middle of a tunnel this afternoon! And I have KY and his colleagues to thank for this opportunity to go out with a bang.
Let me begin by sharing with you the observations of historians that the Roman Empire was founded not on its military strength, but its superior network of quality roads, some of which are still in use in Europe today. In my view, modern and reliable transport infrastructure is at least as important to Hong Kong's continued prosperity as it was to the political power of Ancient Rome. That explains why it has always been a priority item on the Government's agenda.
In a compact yet ever accelerating city like Hong Kong, I believe no one will dispute that railway as a speedy, efficient and environmental friendly carrier forms the very backbone of our transportation network. Between 2002 and 2005, six railway projects (including Phase I of West Rail) will be scheduled for completion to supplement the existing network. In addition, another six priority railway projects are now under study in our railway development blueprint up to 2016. These projects represent an investment totaling nearly $200 billion.
Upon the completion of these railway projects, Hong Kong's railway network will be extended from the existing 143 km to over 250 km. And over 70% of our population and 80% of employment opportunities will be within walking distance from rail stations. The message behind these impressive figures is clear: the distances within Hong Kong, as well as between Hong Kong and the Mainland, will shrink further.
As I mentioned a moment ago, a quality and well-coordinated transportation network is one of the cornerstones underpinning Hong Kong's economic prosperity. While it is important that the Government continues to plan with vision and provide strategic direction, the participation of professional and dedicated partners from the private sector is imperative to making the system thrive and improve. In this regard, I am proud to say that Hong Kong's pro-competition approach in inviting rail, ferry and bus operators to put in their most competitive ideas has led to diversity and continuous service improvement. The "Build, Operate and Transfer" project management method used in our tunnel construction has also proven to be a great success.
The West Rail project is another stunning example showcasing the success of the public-private partnership formula. As you may be aware, northwest New Territories will be a strategic growth area in the coming decade. According to the projection made in our 1998 Territorial Development Strategy Review, Hong Kong's population will notch up to more than 8 million by 2011. And population in northwest New Territories is expected to grow phenomenally to about 1.4 million in 2011. Serving as a vital link to urban Kowloon, West Rail will be the lifeblood of northwest New Territories. I have been told that upon completion of the West Rail, a journey from Sham Shui Po to Tuen Mun will take only 30 minutes. How incredible! And imagine how life will be different for those who live in that part of the New Territories.
I would like to take this opportunity to commend KCRC for its vision and commitment to upgrading the transportation infrastructure of Hong Kong. I congratulate the joint venture partners on the excellent progress that you have achieved so far. I wish everyone concerned every success in taking forward this important railway project. I am confident that the Corporation will make every possible effort to ensure that Phase I of West Rail will be completed on schedule. I look forward to the experience of riding on the West Rail before long.
Thank you very much.
Photo:Picture shows Mrs Chan activating the last blast to break through the tunnel.
End/Monday, April 2, 2001