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The 65.2bln destruction of West Kowloon (sequel)The good news is that ExCo approved connecting Hong Kong with the Mainland's high-speed rail network. The bad news is that Government is pursuing the wrong location for the station. Will the members of the Legislative Council ask the right questions when Government submits the funding for approval?

Click here for the Government press release. A copy of the full text is at the end of this mail.  Below is a critical review of key points (in bold) in the press release.

Railworks HK$53.7bln; access improvement of terminus and neighbouring districts HK$11.5bln. HK$65.2bln is more than anyone expected: It is more than the cost of the South Island Line, Shatin Central Line and West Island Line combined!

In verbal statements, the Secretary for Transport promised HK$180 to
Guangzhou, and HK$50 to Shenzhen. The Hong Kong taxpayer will need to subsidize directly or indirectly (foregoing revenues) at least the same amount if not more for each ticket.

Ex-gratia compensation upgraded from zone C to zone A - that's more than double the compensation due!! The willingness to buckle under pressure and more than double the compensation for Express Rail will have a lasting impact on all future development right negotiations. The claim that the deal is 'exclusively for Express Rail' is a fallacy – watch out for the next time Government needs land in the New Territories. The villagers will not forget the trick!

In one swoop, Government doubled the cost of ever solving one of Hong Kong’s biggest problems. The small house policy which is resulting in daily reports of illegal land filling, haphazard village sprawl and despoliation of rural land, can only be resolved with an agreement over compensation – either in cash or with development rights.

To maximise the benefits of a high-speed railway, stations should be located at the city-centre where the density of population, employment and economic activities converge. It is not the 'city-centre' location but convenient access which maximises benefits.

Hong Kong has a unique topography: our city-centre is a harbour and the population, employment and economic activities are wrapped around it. The problem is that the express rail station in West Kowloon can't connect passengers conveniently to our existing rail stations located in all areas where employment and activities converge.

West Kowloon is a cul-de-sac locked in between the harbour and congested surrounding areas, all transport services - including rail lines - are spread over a large area with cumbersome pedestrian and vehicular connections.

The 11.5bln investment may improve vehicular circulation between the station, cultural district and Elements, but not with the neighbouring areas. Importantly, it will destroy any opportunity for a quality pedestrian environment in the area.

Note: that more than half of China's express rail stations are located OUTSIDE city centres. In Europe there has been a deliberate attempt to use existing infrastructure to ensure quality integration with other rail and transport services. Even so, many high speed stations are outside city centres in Europe.

Excellent synergy with West Kowloon Cultural District. West Kowloon is already served with rail via Austin Road and Kowloon Station - there is little additional benefit the HK$65.2bln station can deliver.

Most commercial districts within are 15 minutes and most residential districts are within 30 minutes of the Express Rail Station in West Kowloon Station. Government did not include the transfer time to other rail services nor the loading/unloading and congestion time for vehicular services.

These are significant in
West Kowloon: the transport interchanges are spread out over a large area with cumbersome pedestrian connections, and all junctions around West Kowloon are congested. The planned 11.5bln road works at best help circulation around the station only.

90 daily trains to Zhenzhen, 24 daily to Guangzhou, 24 daily to 15 (and later 33 daily to 16) mainland cities. In verbal statements, the Secretary for Transport claims 100,000pax a day. Only a few hundred passengers will stay in a hotel or apartment in West Kowloon, all others will use transport to go to their home, hotel, cruise ship or to catch a flight. And transport is a problem in West Kowloon.

Rail system and related businesses will employ 10,000 people. Many of these 10,000 will need to commute into West Kowloon daily, adding to transport problems.

There is a better solution (see www.beterrail4hk.org)
West Kowloon is the wrong location. The China express rail can be integrated with our existing rail network in the New Territories with minimal loss in transport benefits, at less than half the cost (HK$25bln), in less time, with less risk, and at lower ongoing operational expense.

The proposed station in the
New Territories requires less than ONE THIRD of the resumption needed for the service to West Kowloon. Moreover, the 10,000 new jobs will then be located in the New Territories - where Hong Kong needs the jobs.

Government Press Release - Tuesday, October 20, 2009 - Issued at HKT 15:53

ExCo approves implementation of high-speed rail link

The Chief Executive in Council today (October 20) approved the implementation of the Hong Kong section of the Guangdong-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link (XRL) project and the Government's recommendation to seek funding approval from the Finance Committee of the Legislative Council so that the construction of the project can start before the end of 2009.

A Transport and Housing Bureau spokesman said the XRL would help reinforce Hong Kong’s status as a transport, financial and commercial hub of China. The whole alignment of the XRL, between its terminus at West Kowloon and Shibi in Guangzhou, is about 140 kilometres with intermediate stations at Futian, Longhua and Humen.

"Apart from providing high speed shuttle service between neighbouring cities and the regional rapid transit systems of Guangdong Province, the XRL allows Hong Kong to tap into the 16,000-kilometre national high-speed railway network.

The through-train services to major Mainland cities at an average of 300km will enable travellers from
Hong Kong to reach Xiamen in four hours, Wuhan in five hours, Shanghai in eight hours and Beijing in 10 hours," the spokesman said.

The XRL will play an unparallelled role in fostering closer economic ties between Hong Kong and the Mainland, which will inject momentum and create new opportunities for the future development of Hong Kong in the medium and long term. In addition to injecting impetus for the economic activities mentioned above, there will be substantial benefits arising from time saving to passengers, cost savings to operators and enhanced road safety.

It is estimated that over its 50 years of operation, the quantifiable economic benefits of the XRL mainly attributed to time-savings by travellers would amount to $87 billion in 2009 prices (4% discount rate per annum).  Induced benefits such as additional expenditure and investment in Hong Kong, which are difficult to quantify, have not been assessed. “In the near future, the construction of the Hong Kong section is expected to create 11,000 job opportunities during the peak period.

When completed, the high-speed rail system, together with related business establishments, is expected to employ 10,000 people," the spokesman said.
 While the Hong Kong section of the XRL will run in a 26km underground tunnel within Hong Kong, there is a need to provide an emergency rescue station and stabling sidings to meet operational requirements.

A site at Choi Yuen Tsuen in Shek Kong has been identified as the most suitable location.
“The package proposed for the Choi Yuen Tsuen villagers and other parties affected by land resumption and clearance of various sites required under the project will go beyond the present compensation and rehousing arrangements under the existing policy. This is in view of the fact that the project is an essential project of strategic importance to us and the future integration of Hong Kong in the nation’s development through our connectivity with the national high-speed railway system.

Accordingly, the package was exclusively applicable to the parties affected by land clearance required under the XRL project," the spokesman said.
 “Subject to meeting certain eligibility criteria, households with special rehousing needs will be offered an ex-gratia cash allowance of $600,000, or an allowance of $500,000 and an opportunity to purchase a flat in the New Territories under the Home Ownership Scheme without being subject to the Comprehensive Means Test.

All affected households will be eligible for a domestic removal allowance, ranging from $3,000 to $10,000," he said.
 “Genuine farmers can buy or rent land to continue with farming activities and apply to the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conversation Department and the Lands Department for short-term waiver on such land to build a 17-foot-high temporary structure of an area of 400 square feet for residential purpose. In addition, those eligible can also choose to apply for the ex-gratia cash allowance, the maximum amount being $600,000.

“The New Territories is divided into four ex-gratia compensation zones and Choi Yuen Tsuen falls within Zone C.  We shall upgrade the ex-gratia compensation from Zone C to Zone A, so that the compensation rate for building land in Choi Yuen Tsuen will be increased from $433.75 per square foot to $1,041 per square foot and for agricultural land from $219.5 per square foot to $526.8 square foot.”

To enhance the flexibility in providing assistance to other households that have special rehousing needs but do not fully comply with the eligibility criteria, the Secretary for Transport and Housing (STH) has been authorised to exercise discretion and determine whether such a household can be entitled to the special assistance. Affected households may apply to the STH for discretionary consideration.

During the public consultation on the XRL project, the Government noted clear public demand for promoting organic and community farming in Hong Kong. Under the Government's latest plan, about 2 hectares of land near Choi Yuen Tsuen can be recovered after a shallow section of the XRL rail tunnel is built.  The lot will be leased to an non-governmental organisation at nominal rent for operating a non-profit-making community farm in the future. The provision of community farming will help meet the villagers’ aspiration to continue their way of living if they so wish.

According to the current planning, in the early years of operation of the XRL, there will be 90 and 24 daily train pairs for shuttle services to the Shenzhen and Guangzhou areas respectively.  These translate into an average 15 minute headway to Shenzhen and 30 minute headway to Guangzhou for most hours.  Subject to the development of the national railway schedules, there will be 24 daily train pairs to 15 Mainland cities, which will gradually increase to 33 daily pairs to 16 cities.

The Hong Kong terminus of the XRL at West Kowloon is close to most major business, commercial, retail, hotel and residential districts in Hong Kong. It is well served by existing and planned railways and road networks. The travelling distance between the terminus and most commercial districts throughout Hong Kong is within 15 minutes, and that between the terminus and most residential districts is within 30 minutes.

The terminus also creates excellent synergy with the future West Kowloon Cultural District.
 International experiences such as those in Japan, France and the UK suggest that to maximise the benefits of a high-speed railway, stations should be located at the city-centre where the density of population, employment and economic activities converge.

Taking into account a global price escalation trend and improvements to the railway scheme which were identified as necessary during the detailed design stage, the cost of the railway works of the XRL is estimated at $53.7 billion. 

The cost estimate for the non-railway works is $11.5 billion.  They are mostly enhancement works to increase the accessibility of the terminus and its neighbouring districts. The Highways Department has critically assessed the MTR Corporation Limited (MTRCL)'s proposed standards of the facilities to be provided in the XRL project and is satisfied that they are reasonable. It has employed independent engineering consultants to assist in verifying the MTRCL’s work. The MTRCL will be asked to proceed with the construction, testing and commissioning of the project, on the understanding that it will be invited to undertake its operation under the concession approach.

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