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STH's speech at High-Speed Rail Symposium (English only)

      Following is the keynote address entitled "Opportunities Presented to Hong Kong by the Express Rail Link" by the Secretary for Transport and Housing, Ms Eva Cheng, at High-Speed Rail Symposium held today (October 9):

CK (Chow), Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,

     It is my pleasure to join you for this symposium.  The great advantage of speaking last is that I have had the opportunity to listen to the expert views already presented today.

     I would like to take this opportunity to thank you all for your input and for your commitment to the development of Hong Kong's express rail network.

     Hearing more about your analysis of high-speed railways for Hong Kong has been both enlightening and sobering.  Enlightening because of the dynamic development of high-speed rail networks around the world.  And sobering because if Hong Kong does not act fast we risk becoming marginalised and left out of the economic and social benefits driven by high-speed railways.

     It seems everyone is talking about high-speed rail travel nowadays.

    "Everyone" includes US President Barack Obama described it as, quote: "a smart transportation system equal to the needs of the 21st century".

    It also includes British Prime Minister Gordon Brown who said, quote: "We must show how we are going to be part of the high-speed rail revolution sweeping across the world."

    And, just before the Beijing Olympics last year, President Hu Jintao said, quote: "The high-speed trains have become a milestone in the history of China's railway development."

    Hong Kong is often held up as an example of what can be achieved by efficient railways.  Over the years, we have lent our engineering experience and know-how to the development of rail systems around the world, including the newly opened Dubai Metro and Beijing Line 4.

    Today, our rail network is the beating heart of the cityˇ¦s public and cross-boundary transport systems.  But we must now continue to move with the times.

    Why is high-speed rail becoming so important? For one thing, fast and efficient railway systems are good for the environment.  Train journey reduces carbon emission by roughly two thirds as compared with a flight trip on a passenger-kilometre basis.  Trains also emit only half the carbon as cars do.  As other cities race to build their high-speed railways and metro systems, Hong Kong already moves more than one third of our daily trips on our railways .  This takes a great strain off our roads and helps keep our carbon emissions under control.

    I should also add that our design is to build the full length of the proposed express rail line in tunnels to minimise the impact on the environment.

Strategic Value of the XRL

     The strategic value of our proposed high-speed railway project, the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link, or XRL for short, cannot be understated.

     Hong Kong has long thrived as a gateway to Mainland China and our cross-boundary rail service began almost a century ago, way back in 1911.  Of course, there have been many changes since then and we expect the XRL to completely change the landscape of railway connections and regional travel in the future.

     First, it will provide an express shuttle service between our neighbouring cities, relieving congestion at the current boundary crossings and offering a premium service for passengers.

     Secondly, it will connect with the regional rapid transit systems of Guangdong Province, providing the necessary connectivity to achieve the concept of the ˇ§one hour economic and living sphereˇ¨ between Hong Kong and the Pearl River Delta region.

     And third, it will allow Hong Kong to tap into the 16,000-kilometre national high-speed railway network.  We are planning to provide a through-train service to 16 major Mainland cities from the heart of our city centre.

     The integration with the Mainland's high-speed railway network merits special focus.

      The beauty of locating the high-speed railway terminus in West Kowloon, right in the middle of town, enables the XRL to offer a real and competitive alternative to air travel. Including a normal 2 hour pre-take-off and post-landing time necessary for air travel, the high speed railway's total travelling time is actually shorter to cities south of Wuhan in Central China, i.e., within a radius of 1,000 km from Hong Kong.  This means that going to Wuhan, Nanchang, Fuzhou, Changsha, Nanning, Xiamen and so on from West Kowloon will be more efficient by rail than by air. So the XRL station at West Kowloon is more than a railway station. Look at it functioning as an in-town airport for these cities but minus all the hassle when taking a plane.

     The population of the major Mainland cities in a catchment area within a 5 hour XRL-travelling radius from Hong Kong amounts to more than 80 million, without counting the population of the nearby towns and rural areas.  This is about the size of Germany's population and 30% more than that of UK.  Linking these city centres to ours by the most environmentally-friendly mode of transport presents enormous opportunities for our future economic development.

     From our established economic strengths of financial and professional services to the promotion of six high potential industries (educational services, medical services, testing and certification, innovation and technology, cultural and creative and environmental industries), the high-speed trains will bring these source markets so much closer to Hong Kong.

West Kowloon Terminus

     Indeed, the question is not whether we should build the high-speed railway, but rather, how soon can it be completed to realise the full benefits.

     Our proposal is for the XRL to terminate at West Kowloon, a booming business and residential district already well served by local railway and road networks.  To maximise the strategic advantages of the Terminus, we shall put in place comprehensive pedestrian facilities linking the Terminus with its surrounding areas.

     If I may invite you to imagine how the future West Kowloon will look like, you will see the Terminus stand right next door to another major development, the West Kowloon Cultural District, where a wide range of first-class arts and cultural facilities are being planned.  You will see a large pedestrian and landscaped area between the Terminus, the Cultural District, the MTR Kowloon Station and the Austin Station. You will see travellers transiting these facilities in a comfortable walking environment.  The XRL therefore terminates at this part of our city centre which is also set to become a strategic business and transportation hub for Hong Kong.

Economic benefits to Hong Kong

     The XRL, fostering closer economic ties between Hong Kong and the Mainland, will inject momentum and create new opportunities for the future development of Hong Kong in the medium and long term. Passengers may save over $80 billion from reducing journey time alone over 50 years.  This figure of course has not included the additional expenditure by business and leisure visitors and the spin-off in investment that enhanced connectivity will generate.  The XRL will also provide employment for some 10,000 Hong Kong residents when it is commissioned, in addition to thousands of construction jobs that will be made available shortly after the project gets funding approval.

Co-operation with the Mainland

     We must not underestimate the complexity of the XRL project.  We must also work together with the Mainland authorities for its smooth implementation.  A joint working group with the Ministry of Railways has been formed to deal with engineering and other implementation issues.  My colleagues have had very useful discussions with our counterparts in the Ministry as well as with the Guangdong operator, both of which are represented at this forum.  

Next Steps

     We are now at the final stage of preparation.  We are keeping to our target of start of construction before the end of the year.  We are proceeding in earnest with the next steps.  Our experts in the Highways Department, aided by independent experts, are doing final checking of the budget for the construction to ensure its cost effectiveness.  We understand fully that our funding application will need to contain detailed support information.  We are also handling the land clearance issue with sensitivity, to ensure that affected households are provided with appropriate and reasonable rehousing options.

     Ladies and gentlemen, I believe it is the time to act. It is the time to turn the conclusion of years of debate into reality. It is the time to create decades of new opportunities for Hong Kong and our next generations.

     Indeed, planning major infrastructure well ahead into  the future has been part of our own success stories for decades. In 1970s, we decided to build the mass transit railway system when the community was pretty much satisfied with the services of the franchise buses and did not see the need for a new mode of transport. In the 1990s, we kicked off the Airport Core Programme when taking a flight was considered by many as a privilege of the business travellers and wealthy vacation goers.  Time is the best jury for these decisions.


     Promoting Hong Kong's sustainable economic development through infrastructure projects is a major goal of the SAR Government. We have been pushing ahead with the 10 major infrastructure projects, including the XRL.  These will consolidate our status as a global city, maintain our competitiveness and ensure Hong Kong remains a bright spot on the map for this part of the world.

     I look to all of you for your continued support of this project.

     Thank you very much.

Ends/Friday, October 9, 2009
Issued at HKT 20:55


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