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The backstory: In 1979, the Hong Kong Mass Transit Railway, or MTR, chugged onto the scene. It started as a single line but soon spread its tracks to weave a comprehensive network through the city. You might be surprised to know that about 75% of this giant is owned by the Hong Kong government. How did that happen? It merged with the Kowloon-Canton Railway Corporation, another government-owned player, in 2007. This made MTR the city’s only rail operator.
These days, MTR has faced some rough waters. Delays, budget overruns, train mishaps – you name it. It's been a bumpy ride, with everything from train crashes to door problems grabbing the headlines.
More recently: Beijing has its sights set on a place called Qianhai to become a global business hub by 2035. Qianhai is set to expand big time, from around 14.9 square kilometers (around 3,700 acres) to 120.6 square kilometers (around 29,800 acres).
In 2021, former Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam revealed a plan featuring five railway projects, and one of the stars was the Hong Kong-Shenzhen Western Rail Link, also known as the Hung Shui Kiu-Qianhai line, which would connect Hong Kong to this expanding business region. This is also part of the development of the Northern Metropolis, a huge IT hub in the northern New Territories near the mainland border.
The development: According to a report by the South China Morning Post, the Hong Kong-Shenzhen Western Rail Link project will be open to competition via a public tender rather than just handed over automatically to MTR. According to the Post, several other companies are preparing to compete for the contract for building this brand-new rail line connecting Hong Kong's Hung Shui Kiu to the Qianhai special economic zone in Shenzhen.
One source said that the government is keen to introduce some competition to spruce up the city's rail services and break MTR Corp's monopoly. The government is reportedly hashing out the details with its Shenzhen counterparts.
Henry Cheung Nin-sang, chairman of the Association of Hong Kong Railway Transport Professionals, said that at least three other companies are gearing up to bid for the project, which he estimated to have a cost of around HK$20 billion (US$2.55 billion) for the Hong Kong part of the rail link. Beijing will be footing the bill for the part of the railway on the mainland side of the border.
“At least three firms engaging in relevant business have expressed an interest in bidding for this project. They are now working out the project’s preliminary planning about its construction and operation. They will jump into action once the tendering process kicks off,” said Henry Cheung Nin-sang, chairman of the Association of Hong Kong Railway Transport Professionals, to the South China Morning Post.
“I support the government to inject competition into rail service,” said Cheung to the Post. “This will break the monopoly of the MTR Corp and compel it to improve its service and the delivery of projects.”
“The projects will bring about a highly inter-connected and accessible road network and rail system, and vigorously drive and support future development of Hong Kong,” said Chief Executive John Lee last year.
“We will continue to take forward other railway projects in the Northern Metropolis. Kwu Tung Station of the Northern Link will be commissioned in 2027, and the construction works for Hung Shui Kiu Station and the Northern Link Main Line will commence within the current-term of the government,” Lee added.