LCQ10 : Guangzhou-Shenzhen-HK Express Rail Link

Following is a question by the Hon Lau Kong-wah and a written reply by the Secretary for the Environment, Transport and Works, Dr Sarah Liao, at the Legislative Council meeting today (November 10):


In March 2002, a joint expert group formed by the Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region and the relevant Mainland authority embarked on a feasibility study on the development of an express rail link connecting Guangzhou, Shenzhen and Hong Kong.  It was reported that the expert group had explored the desirability of adopting a magnetically levitated (Maglev) system for the rail link, but ceased pursuing this option last year in view of the high costs involved.  Recently, however, the expert group revisited the option of adopting the Maglev system.  With regard to these issues, will the Government inform this Council:

(a) of the latest progress of the study conducted by the expert group on the development of the express rail link; and

(b) how the implementation timetable of the express rail link will be affected by the expert group's revisiting of the option of adopting the Maglev system, and how the Maglev system compares with the wheel-rail system in terms of cost-effectiveness?


Madam President,

The Joint Expert Group on Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link (the Joint Expert Group) set up by the Environment, Transport and Works Bureau (ETWB) of the Hong Kong SAR Government and the Ministry of Railways (MoR) of the Mainland Government is conducting an investigative study on the feasibility of the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link (ERL).

In the first stage of the study, issues such as the functions and strategic importance of the ERL, the regional transport demand, passenger forecast, and the possible alignments and crossing points of the rail link were studied.  Upon the completion of the first stage of the study, the two sides have confirmed the strategic importance of the ERL and embarked on the second stage of the study, in which issues including the railway alignments, station locations, the interface between the Hong Kong and the Mainland sections of the ERL, the major technical standards, passenger forecast and financial viability will be further examined.

Taking into account the latest development of the town planning and traffic network planning on the two sides, the MoR and the ETWB are considering some new ideas for the Mainland and Hong Kong sections of the ERL respectively.  On the Mainland side, the MoR is studying the feasibility of using the Mainland section of the ERL to also cater for the Guangzhou-Shenzhen axis of the Pearl River Delta Rapid Transit System.

On the Hong Kong side, we are studying the feasibility of using the West Rail and the Northern Link to form the Hong Kong section of the ERL. The Kowloon-Canton Railway Corporation (KCRC) and the MTR Corporation Limited (MTRCL) have provided in their Joint Merger Report a preliminary analysis on the above-mentioned ideas.  We have also asked the KCRC to do further planning in the context of its study on the Northern Link.

Included in both the first and second stages of the joint investigative study is an assessment of and a comparison between the wheel-on-track technology and the Maglev technology.  If the Maglev technology is adopted, a new and separate rail corridor will have to be built for use by Maglev trains, and it is anticipated that the construction time will be longer than that under the wheel-on-track option.

When analysing the cost effectiveness of the two railway technologies, we have to take into account a number of factors, such as the construction and operation costs, train operating speed, system reliability and compatibility.  The extremely low noise level achieved by the Maglev technology, as demonstrated by the operation of Maglev trains in Shanghai, may command an advantage in areas with high population density and should also be taken into account.

The construction cost of railways includes the cost of building the railway tracks and the rolling stocks.  Generally speaking, the Maglev technology will attract a higher construction cost than the wheel-on-track technology, but the actual cost will depend on the topography along the railway alignment and whether the railway system is constructed in the urban areas.  Moreover, the operation and maintenance costs of a Maglev railway are higher than those of a wheel-on-track railway.

As for the speed of the railway, the design speed of Maglev trains is higher than that of wheel-on-track trains.  Nevertheless, a reasonable distance between stations will be required in order to optimize the efficiency of the Maglev system in reducing the journey time.

Regarding the reliability of the railway system, both the wheel-on-track and the Maglev technologies can meet the required safety standards.  The use of the wheel-on-track technology has a history of over a hundred years.  Therefore, we have more experience over the reliability of rail services and systems offered by the wheel-on-track technology.  On the other hand, the commercial operation of the Maglev system is not as widely tested.  As regards system compatibility, given that the majority of existing railways in the Mainland and in Hong Kong are wheel-on-track railway systems, direct connection of the ERL with existing wheel-on-track railway networks will not be possible if the Maglev technology is adopted.

Ends/Wednesday, November 10, 2004