Advisory Council on the Environment

Railway Development Strategy (without Annexes)

(ACE Paper 24/2000)
For discussion


This paper informs Members on the findings of the Second Railway Development Study (RDS-2) and on the new railway development strategy entitled "Railway Development Strategy 2000", and seek Members' views on them.


2.The Government announced the "Railway Development Strategy 2000" on 16 May 2000, which was formulated on the basis of RDS-2's findings. We have sent every Member a copy of the Strategy.


The 1994 Railway Development Strategy

3.The Government formulated the first Railway Development Strategy for Hong Kong in 1994. It accorded priority to the implementation of three railway projects, namely, the KCR West Rail, the MTR Tseung Kwan O Extension, and the Ma On Shan to Tai Wai Rail Link which is to couple with an extension of the KCR East Rail from Hung Hom to Tsim Sha Tsui.

4.These three rail projects are now at different stages of implementation. In 1999, the Government decided to proceed with the implementation of the Sheung Shui to Lok Ma Chau Spur Line for an additional rail passenger boundary crossing to provide relief to Lo Wu. The Government also decided in late 1999 that as part and parcel of the Disney Theme Park development, the Penny's Bay Rail Link should be built and completed in time for the opening of the Theme Park. Thus a total of six new railway lines are scheduled for completion between 2002 and 2005.

The Second Railway Development Study

5.The Government commissioned RDS-2 in March 1998 to examine how best to further expand the rail network of the HKSAR in order to meet the rail transport needs arising from population growth and increase in cross-boundary activities for the next two decades. In order to take into account environmental considerations from the outset of the strategic planning, RDS-2 also included a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) as an integral part of the railway network development. The RDS-2 is now completed. A SEA Final Report and its Executive Summary are at Annex A and the SEA findings are summarised in paragraphs 31 to 35 below.


6.RDS-2 predicts bottlenecks to occur in the railway network as travel demand develops. These bottlenecks will appear along the Tsuen Wan Line at the Nathan Road section, the Island Line at Causeway Bay and the East Rail at the Beacon Hill Tunnel. RDS-2 has shortlisted six new component schemes which can meet the objectives of relieving these bottlenecks and facilitating economic and housing development of the SAR. The six component schemes are :-

  1. North Hong Kong Island Line;
  2. Fourth Rail Harbour Crossing;
  3. East Kowloon Line;
  4. Tai Wai to Diamond Hill Link;
  5. Northern Link; and
  6. Kowloon Southern Link.

7.In addition, three stand-alone schemes, which would not affect the formation of the basic network options, have also been identified to serve transport needs in particular corridors. They are the West Hong Kong Island Line, the Regional Express Line and the Port Rail Line.

8.RDS-2 concludes that the component schemes can be combined in two different ways to meet all the objectives of the railway network expansion needs. Two basic network options comprising the component schemes are suggested, the first option is based on extending East Rail across the harbour as the Fourth Rail Harbour Crossing (FHC), and the second combines the Tai Wai to Diamond Hill Link and the East Kowloon Line with the FHC to form a continuous corridor. RDS-2 has recommended that we follow the second option.

9.Apart from the network, RDS-2 recommends that Hung Hom should remain as the Mass Transportation Centre, which will be the inter-city train terminal with immigration and custom facilities and be a major transport interchange.

10.RDS-2 also concludes that the existing railway project planning process, typically taking eight to nine years from conception to opening, offers little scope for compaction. It therefore suggests that an early start should be made so that the completion of railway projects can be timed to meet the development needs.

11.RDS-2 respects the fare autonomy enjoyed by the two railway Corporations. Subject to this, it suggests that the Corporations should examine interchange fares and the rationalisation of rail fare as the network develops.

12.RDS-2 asserts that it has put forward railway schemes which are financially viable but also notes that financial viability for some of the rail projects may require additional support. It suggests that Government can consider paying for part of the costs for these projects as public works expenditure.

13.RDS-2 recommends that the North Hong Kong Island Line is the most urgently required, to be completed by 2008. This should be followed by the Tai Wai to Diamond Hill Link, the East Kowloon Line, and the Fourth Rail Harbour Crossing, to be completed in 2011. The Northern Link, Kowloon Southern Link and West Hong Kong Island Line should be completed by 2016. The implementation of the Regional Express Line and the Port Rail Line is largely dependent on the pace at which the passenger and freight traffic demand will build up.

14.We feel the RDS-2 findings are broadly acceptable.


15.Based on the findings of RDS-2, government formulated Railway Development Strategy 2000 (the 2000 Strategy). The 2000 Strategy underlines Government's policy on railway development and indicates which rail schemes should be included in the next phase of railway network development for Hong Kong up to the year 2016 or so. Although we will need some flexibility in the implementation of individual projects, the 2000 Strategy will lay down the broad framework for the implementation of the next batch of railways.

Key Features of Railway Development Strategy 2000

16.The 2000 Strategy envisages six new passenger rail corridors and a potential Port Rail Line (PRL). The six new rail corridors are as follows :-

  1. an east-west corridor from Chai Wan to Tung Chung formed by the MTR Island Line (ISL), the North Hong Kong Island Line (NIL) and the Tung Chung Line;
  2. a second east-west corridor from the Tseung Kwan O to Kennedy Town formed by the MTR Tseung Kwan O Extension, ISL and the West Hong Kong Island Line (WIL);
  3. a north-south corridor which, depending on the operator, could either run direct from Tai Wai or Ma On Shan to Hong Kong Island via Southeast Kowloon;
  4. a Kowloon Southern Link (KSL) that will provide convenient connection between the KCR East Rail and West Rail via the Kowloon peninsula;
  5. a Northern Link (NOL) that will connect the KCR East Rail and West Rail at the northern part of the New Territories; and
  6. the Regional Express Line (REL) that will provide rapid rail transport between the Boundary and the Metro areas.

The potential PRL will be from Lo Wu to the Kwai Chung Port via either East Rail or West Rail.

17.To achieve these six new passenger rail corridors and the PRL, we need to build on and interconnect the 2006 railway network by the development of the following six new railway projects. These projects are chosen from the RDS-2 recommended schemes, grouped to form suitable packages to serve the perceived development needs of the community.

Island Line Extensions

18.We intend to group the North Hong Kong Island Line and the West Hong Kong Island Line into one project. The North Hong Kong Island Line is required to relieve overcrowding of the Island Line. The West Hong Kong Island Line will serve the development needs of the Western District in Hong Kong Island and its development depends on the additional capacity provided by the North Hong Kong Island Line. The development of the North Hong Kong Island Line relies on the availability of the Central and Wanchai Reclamation. The project is naturally an MTR project which should possibly be completed in two phases between 2008 and 2012.

Shatin to Central Link

19.This project will provide relief to the projected congestion at the East Rail at Beacon Hill Tunnel, and connect Shatin with Hong Kong Island by combining Tai Wai to Diamond Hill Link, the East Kowloon Line, and the Fourth Rail Harbour Crossing into one project. This project will provide an important north-south rail corridor. The development of the Fourth Rail Harbour Crossing depends on the availability of the Wanchai reclamation, scheduled for 2008. The East Kowloon Line should be developed to provide early support to the traffic needs of the South East Kowloon Development. The Tai Wai to Diamond Hill Link should be completed in time to relieve congestion at the Beacon Hill Tunnel projected to occur by 2011. Again, the Sha Tin to Central Link project can be completed in phases between 2008 and 2011. Both railway Corporations should be invited to submit proposals to develop this project.

Kowloon Southern Link

20.The Kowloon Southern Link extends West Rail into the heart of Kowloon to interchange with East Rail at Hung Hom and is naturally a KCR project. It will enhance the development of West Kowloon and serve the integrated arts and culture and entertainment district planned there. The Kowloon Southern Link project can be completed between 2008 to 2013.

Northern Link

21.The Northern Link will provide convenient rail access for the Strategic Growth Areas in the north-west New Territories by connecting West Rail to East Rail. It also links up the West Rail Kam Sheung Road Station with the boundary crossing at Lok Ma Chau. It is naturally a KCRC project, and can be timed for completion in conjunction with the Strategic Growth Area development in the window of 2011-2016.

Regional Express Line

22.The Regional Express Line will connect the Boundary through express service to Hung Hom, with a possible further extension across the harbour to Hong Kong Island. The demand for this line will depend on how quickly the additional capacity provided by the Spur Line will be taken up. We will therefore wish to start early the preliminary planning process for this project so as to be able to implement this line quickly if the demand so justifies. Depending on the terminal points, this line can be built by either Corporation.

Port Rail Line

23.We should encourage the KCRC, which is the natural contender for this line joining Lo Wu with the container port via East Rail or West Rail, to investigate into the viability of the Port Rail Line. If viable, the availability of the Line will enhance the economic development of the SAR and reinforce the status of our port. The decision to implement this project will hinge mainly on a commercial decision on the viability of the project, but Government should render every support for the project in the planning and implementation process in view of the economic and environmental benefits of putting container freight on rail.

Mass Transportation Centre

24.The Strategy also endorses the RDS-2 recommendation in paragraph 9 above that Hung Hom should remain as the Mass Transportation Centre.

Benefits of the Strategy

25.The Strategy will be vital in supporting the economic, social and population growth of the HKSAR in the next 15 years in a sustainable manner and conducive to our vision of building Hong Kong to a world-class city. In addition, the Strategy will facilitate even closer economic and social linkage between the HKSAR and the Mainland, particularly Guangdong and the Pearl River Delta.

26.Completion of the strategy will expand the existing railway by some 70% to over 250 kilometres. Over 70% of our population and 80% of our employment will then be within walking distance from railway stations. As a result, the expanded railway network will boost the rail share in the public transport system to 43% and will bring about an economic internal rate of return of more than 15%.

27. At the sub-regional and district level, the railway projects will support the rail-based planning concept and developments in the Northeast and Northwest New Territories, the South East Kowloon area and the Western District.


28.To summarise, the indicative implementation timeframe for the six new railway projects is as follows :-

Project Operator Likely Completion Window  
Island Line Extensions MTRC 2008-2012
Shatin to Central Link MTRC/KCRC 2008-2011By competitive bidding.
Kowloon Southern Link KCRC 2008-2013
Northern Link KCRC 2011-2016
Regional Express Line MTRC/KCRC Depends on cross-boundary rail passenger growth; by competitive bidding depending on alignment.
Port Rail Line KCRC Depends on cross-boundary rail container freight growth.

A map showing the general locations of these projects is at Annex B.

29.The Strategy reaffirms our policy of healthy competition that the two Railway Corporations will be invited to bid for any new project, which is not a natural extension of an existing line, such as the Shatin to Central Link. In considering such bids, the Government will take into account all relevant factors and ensure that the two Corporations are competing on a level playing field. Whether a particular corporation will eventually succeed in the bid is a normal business risk it will have to face.

Project Costs

30.The rough order of cost of implementing the six railway projects outlined in paragraphs 18 to 23 above is $80 to 100 Billion in 1998 prices. We believe that the greater part of these projects are financially viable, given the continued commitment by Government to pay for ancillary public works items required to support the railway, such as pedestrian facilities connecting to the stations, access roads to the stations, and public transport interchanges serving the stations, and to allow the railway Corporations to develop property on appropriate sites on top of railway stations and depots. In allowing property development, we should charge the railway Corporations full market value land premium on a bare site basis. This charging arrangement should apply to all railway projects.


31.A strategic environmental assessment (SEA) has been carried out as a key component of the RDS-2. The SEA aims to optimise the potential environmental benefits and has ensured that major environmentally sensitive areas were avoided in developing new railway schemes from the outset.

32.The SEA has assessed that, with majority of the new railway schemes to be built and operated underground, the potential environmental impacts are greatly reduced. From a strategic perspective, no insurmountable environmental problems have been encountered at this stage, though all the new railway projects recommended in the Strategy have some potential environmental impacts which have been identified in the SEA using some indicative corridors and alignments tentatively assumed for strategic evaluation purpose. These environmental concerns and the detailed alignments of the new railway projects will be addressed and studied further during the future planning, design and development of the railway projects, including the statutory environmental impact assessment process.

33.The clear environmental advantages of rail over an 'alternative' road-based approach in meeting the growth in transport demand have also been confirmed in the SEA. Being more efficient than road-based transport, railways will reduce land take, noise impact and air pollution, and can meet our increasing transport needs better in a sustainable manner. By reducing the reliance on road-based transport, expansion of the railway network according to the Strategy would help avoid vehicle emissions comprising some 600 tonnes of NOX and respirable suspended particulates a year. Dependent on the fuel mix that the energy industries use in the future, 160,000 tonnes of CO2 a year may also be avoided.

34.To facilitate railway developments, the SEA asserts that environmental benefits should be duly taken into account when appraising potential railway proposals so as to help justify their desirability. The guidance of operating railways under the prudent commercial principles may present financial hurdles for potential railway projects when the financial viability of the projects cannot meet the set criteria. On the other hand, Government seeks to enable the implementation of railway projects, including granting property development rights, injecting equity and paying for essential public infrastructure works required for the railway operation. The SEA recommends that the Government will need to consider additional support to less viable railway projects if the perception of promoting the environmentally friendly rail mode of transport is to be realised.

35.The SEA also notes that further avoidance of emission and impact would be achieved under the Strategy by implementing measures to promote the use of railways further. These include strengthening the integration of landuse and housing development planning with railway development; the development of a more integrated public transport system, in which bus, minibus and other feeder services complement the rail network; provision of extensive pedestrian linkages to railway stations; and introduction of complementary measures such as restraint on private transport use.


36.Members are requested to note the findings of the Second Railway Development Study (RDS-2) as summarised in paragraphs 6 to 13 and 31 to 35 above and the new railway development strategy entitled "Railway Development Strategy 2000". We also welcome views from Members.

Transport Bureau
June 2000


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