The Kowloon Canton Railway (British Section), Far Eastern Review article, 1909

Peter Crush has kindly sent the following article. Peter has also improved the clarity of the images used in the original article.


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   The Kowloon-Canton Railway project that has for its purpose the safeguarding of the interests of Hongkong as a distributing center for South China by establishing a railway connection with the trunk line that, when completed, will run from Canton to Peking, is perhaps one of the most important undertakings in South China. When the Canton-Hankow section of the trunk line to Peking was projected and a concession granted to the American-China Development Company, it was proposed to construct a deep water harbor in the Chinese territory near Canton, the terminus. Hongkong at once realized that if such a port were established and no effort made to secure the benefits of railway connection with the trunk line, her future as a distributing center for South China would be threatened.

A concession was secured in 1898 by the British and Chinese Corporation to build a line connecting Kowloon and Canton which, when completed, would provide the needed railway connection with the trunk line and thus preserve for Hongkong at least her share of the trade even if the deep water harbor contemplated at Canton was realized.

   After securing the concession, the British and Chinese Corporation remained inactive and it was not until the Government and commercial interests of Hongkong were roused to the necessity of securing this railway connection at all hazards even to the extent of pledging her revenues, that the project took form. As evidence of the interest taken we quote from the speech of the Hon. Gresham Stewart, Chairman of the Committee of the China Association, made in October,190, in support of a petition to the Governor, as follows:

   “Whatever the reason, the fact remains that a big financial body like the British and Chinese Corporation have utterly failed to utilize the concession they have held, and it is unreasonable to suppose that this colony will sit still and run the risk of tremendous injury without doing something to protect itself.” And further, he continued:

   “What we would like to see laid down is the broad principle that for the preservation of the colony, and the safeguarding of British interest in South China, the colony be empowered, if necessary, to pledge its credit to ensure the making of the railway and securing the terminus at Kowloon.”

   It must be understood that the concession secured by the British and Chinese Corporation contemplated only the construction of the line in Chinese territory. From Canton to the boundary of the leased territory is approximately 89 miles and the distance from the boundary of the leased territory to Kowloon, a distance of 22miles. Up to the time of Mr. Stewart’s speech in October,1905, it might be said that the concessionaires had accomplished nothing. But in the meantime, the American-China Development Company agreed to give up its concession to construct the Canton-Hankow and receive in return the sum of $6,750,000 U. S. C. in compensation. The Chinese Government failed in an attempt to raise sufficient money by a domestic loan to pay off the American company and was obliged to negotiate a foreign loan. This was the opportunity for Hongkong and arrangements were made by the latter to advance the Chinese the sum of £350,000 secured by the opium revenue of Kwangtung, Hupeh and Hunan, bearing interest at 4-5% per annum and redeemable in 10years. This secured to Hongkong traffic connection with the Canton-Hankow and eliminated the possibility of severe competition from the railway as threatened in the original proposed plans for the Canton terminus.

   The Government of Hongkong then proceeded to make arrangements to construct the line through British territory and in the fall of 1905 surveys for final location were completed and submitted and the title to the land for the right of way resumed by the Crown. Before the end of 1905 about two and a half miles embankment work were completed under the direction of the Public Works Department.

   The estimated grade of the line from Kowloon to Samchun (the point at the border of British territory) is about one in one hundred. There are about 50 bridges running from five feet in length to the largest one of 200 feet, the latter having two 60 and two 40 foot spans.

   These are built largely of masonry and concrete, but where the necessary foundations could not be laid, girder bridges with brick piers were constructed. All the bridges were built “sufficiently wide to accommodate a double track.”

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The most difficult features of construction were the tunnel work and the cuts. In all there are five tunnels, the longest being 7,256 feet and the balance 924 feet, 350 feet, 175 feet and 150 feet respectively. The tunnels 350 feet and 150 feet in length were driven through solid rock, while the operations on the balance found disintegrated granite alternating the solid rock. All the tunnels were driven wide enough to accommodate a double track with the exception of the 7,256foot, and the span of the arch in each of these tunnels is 35 feet lined with brickwork. The drainage is from the ends of the tunnels in each instance. The cuts were also 35 feet wide in which solid rock and disintegrated granite predominated. 

   The steel used is the English standard tee rail weighing 85 pounds to the lineal yard, each rail being 35 feet in length. They are being laid with matched joints and ordinary angle bars are utilized. Suspended joints are the standard and five-eighths spikes with chisel point and ordinary hook head are used.

   Australian hardwoods are used for sleepers. The standard for jarrah ties is 9” x 5″ x 10 feet and distributed at an average of 2,000 to the mile, while the standard of New South Wales hardword is 10″ x 5″ x 10 feet.

   The embankments throughout are 17.5 feet wide designed for a single track except where material was available from the cuts, in which Instances they were widened to 30 feet so as to accommodate the proposed double tracking. The labor used in the construction across the paddy fields was mostly comprised of native women and the vehicle the native basket. The material used in the fields consisted of mud; on the slopes, turf; and the rest of the embankment is built largely of disintegrated granite. The earth from the heavy cuts was transported generally in small dump cars propelled on a two foot gauge track by coolies. These cars were supplied by Arthur Koppel, Berlin.

   The labor for the tunnel work was imported from India as the local natives could not be induced to undertake underground work. Finally some of the coolies, returned from South Africa, replaced the Indians, as the former had become expert at this work. Compressed air plants were installed at the ends of the big tunnel to operate the pumps and the drills. Railways were installed to handle the dirt and rock. Contracts for portions of the work on the smaller tunnels were let to Italian contractors.

   The bricks used were manufactured by the company in its brick plant installed on the right of way and were transported in Indian carts drawn by bullocks. This means of transport was found satisfactory and economical.

   The reclamation work which his to provide a terminal yard at Kowloon with seven or eight miles of sidings is well underway and the work was expedited by utilizing a standard gauge track from the heavy cuts to carry the earth, etc., for the fill. Heavy wooden dump carts hauled by switch engines were used. The rails will be used on the permanent way and the switch engines were part of the company’s regular rolling stock. Sidings will also be provided to connect with the warehouses and godowns.

   The rolling stock will be of British standard. Two locomotives have been ordered to add to the present yard engines and the coaches and freight cars will be ready for use by the time the road is officially opened next year. The estimates for the British section alone is believed sufficient to provide rolling stock for over two-thirds of the line from Kowloon to Canton. Along the 22 miles of line there will be five stations. These stations as well as the buildings at Kowloon terminal will be built of brick and of a substantial character.

   The cost of this railway has been the subject of much discussion in the colony. The original estimates submitted amounted to $5,053,274. These estimates did not include many items of cost and were based on a rather indefinite preliminary survey.

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   They did not make provision for rolling stock, shops, etc. Indeed they were not recognized as other than a rough calculation. It was not until June, 1907, that the first comprehensive estimate was submitted by the Resident Engineer. It did not provide for rolling stock or workshops, and amounted to $8,003,642. Again in December, 1907, estimates including rolling stock and resumption of land at Blackhead’s point were submitted which brought the amount up to $9,860,283.83. In May, 1909, the estimates submitted included the workshops and all items of construction with the exception of land purchase or resumption and amounted in all to $11,004,128. It is expected that up to the end of the year 1909, the sum of $10,015,223 will have been expended and the budget for the year 1910 provides for an expenditure of $1,315,625, which will bring the cost of the line up to about $12,000,000. Of the expenditure for 1910, $374,805 will be used for the resumption of land and the balance will be expended as follows: Bridges, $120,000, fencing, $14,653; track, $125,000; workshops, $60,000; stations, $238,300; station machinery, $25,000; furniture, $5,000; rolling stock, $80,- 000; tools and plant for locomotive and carriage shops, $60,000.

The following comparative table of estimates made in 1905, 1907 and 1909 respectively will be of interest.

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At a meeting of the Hongkong Legislative Council, held May 14th, 1909, upon which occasion the report of the Resident Engineer was presented for consideration, Sir Frederick Lugard, Governor of Hongkong, made the following comprehensive statement in regard to the finances and the progress made in construction which is perhaps the most complete and authoritative review of the line. His Excellency said: 

“Gentlemen, before proceeding to the business of the day, I have to make a statement regarding the progress of the railway. There is among the papers laid on the table this afternoon first a report by the chief resident engineer, and in connection with that report you will no doubt notice that the various departmental reports which have been laid on the table this afternoon are not in the usual form. They do not bear the heading ‘Laid Before the Legislative Coun­cil’, but are headed Appendix with a letter of the alphabet. The reason of this slight alteration is that we propose in future to somewhat condense these departmental reports and publish them in a small volume, which will be laid before the Council. But in order not to further delay these reports, such as are already printed have been laid this afternoon. On February 6th last I made a statement to the Council as to the progress and the financial position of the Canton-Kowloon Railway. And again, when introducing the estimates on 24th of September last, I reported such progress as had taken place in the interval, and I promised that I would make an annual report to the Council, both as regards finances and the progress of the railway, the liability which we are incurring in respect of it; and the ways in which these liabilities are to be met. I much regret the delay in presenting this annual report and laying this statement. I had hoped it would be ready at one of the earlier meetings of the year. We have no resolution this year before Council for votes for the construction of the railway during the year because, under the new financial instructions, which have been lately received from the Colonial Office, the requisite funds for the construction during the year are included in the annual estimates. I propose, however, to follow the course I did last year, and to give you as full a statement of events connected with the railway as I can, and I will endeavor to make as clear as possible the situation both as to expenditure and the prospects both as regards time and date of completion. And I hope I shall be able to amplify the report of the chief resident engineer, and draw your attention to the significance of the figures. I will deal first with expenditure, and I am sorry to say it is not an exhilarating subject. First of all we had an estimate by Mr. Bruce which amounted to $5,053,274. That estimate, as I explained in my former statement, was a very rough one. It was based on a very rough preliminary survey and included no calculation of quantities and many important items such as rolling stock, workshop, etc. It was accepted as a rough estimate by my predecessor when the railway first began. The first full estimate that we had from the chief resident engineer, appointed by the consulting engineers, was in June, 1907. That amounted to $8,003,642. It did not include any provision for rolling stock or for workshops, because at that time it was impossible to know exactly what rolling stock would be required, and whether or not we would require any workshops. At the end of the same year, December, 1907, a further estimate was submitted to the Council, which amounted to $9,860,283. Provision for rolling stock was inserted and the estimate also included the cost of the resumption of the deep sea wharf in the neighborhood of Blackhead’s point, but it still did not include any provision for workshop as the subject was still under discussion. The provision made in the estimate for land was also somewhat vague. No final provision had been taken as regards the site for the terminal station. The estimate which is included in the papers laid this afternoon amounts, as you will see, to $11,004,128. This includes workshops and all items, but it is still possible that the land resumption may not be adequately provided for as all matters in connection with that subject are not yet finally concluded. The excesses of this estimate over the one which was laid before the Council in December last amount to $1,143,845, but if you will turn to column E, on page ten of the report, you will see that of this total sum $996,409 represented the cost of the tunnels. $120,000 of this excess is provided for workshops and there remains a balance of $27,436 which is distributed over various items. But you will see also in the later estimates that there is a great variation of the figures from those contained in the estimate of last year. There is a saving of $82,500 for rolling stock, and $51,700 in ballast and permanent way, making a total of $134,000 saving on these two items. This is met by excess of $90,000 on salaries and $43,000 on accounts, making $153, 000. Bridges show an excess of $47,261; half of that is met by savings on various items, and the other half goes to swell complete the total excess in the estimate of $1,143,845. These large over and under estimates are most unsatisfactory, and they show that the figures which have been supplied have not been reliable. But at the same time I would remind you that the mere question of estimates does not mean a reflection on British engineering.

It is partly due to the fact that we are engaged in constructing a tunnel such as has not been undertaken in this part of the world before, and under which the conditions both as regards Iabor and as regards explosives were extremely difficult to foresee. The variations also under the estimates are in part due to the fact that all the data of the railway were not known and indeed are not known fully yet. Even had the railway been in the hands of contractors there would have been many items excluded for which supplementary estimates would have been required. Nevertheless, we have this fact that this tunnel will cost nearly a million more than the estimate given to us at the end of last year, and that in spite of the fact that the engineers had acquired already a year’s experience in dealing with conditions under which the tunnel had to be constructed. During the year that is passed the quality of the labor has greatly improved. The coolies have been more efficient, and understand the work better. We have been able to engage a number of coolies returned from South Africa who have been trained miners, and have been a great acquisition to work in the tunnels. There has been less sickness and fever. The tunnel has been found to be approximately 44 feet less in length than it had been anticipated, owing to an error in the original triangulation. These causes have receded the cost per foot in a remarkable way. You will see on page 2 a very striking statement in this connection. The heading cost per foot in 1907, $184, which has been reduced to $70.04. The enlarging in 1907 costs $275 which has been reduced to $140.86; the bricking-in was $221 and has been reduced to $113.54. Now, were it not for these very large reductions per lineal foot the excesses would have been something I dread to calculate. Obviously, it is beyond my personal control whether or not the estimate formed by the engineers is adequate. The staff which has been employed has been reduced wherever it has been possible to do so without detriment to the efficiency of the work. The medical arrangements which are practically carried out by Government have increased in efficiency. Everything in fact that the Government has been able to do has been done. The cost of the tunnel – I speak of the big tunnel only; you will of course recollect that sum includes the smaller one as well as the large one – is estimated as you will see in the report at $3,000,000. Its length is 7,212 feet, which works out at $416 a foot; that is to say $2,196,342 a mile or in round figures about £200,000 a mile. If we add to that the cost of permanent way and the share of the tunnel’s length in the general charges of the railway, you will see that the cost of the tunnel is not less than one-third of the total cost of the railway. As regards the special difficulties which have been met with, and which are held accountable for this large increase, I refer you to the report, in which you will see what the chief resident engineer has to say on the subject. The excess over the estimate in December, 1907, is in part due to the fact that we are completely lining the tunnel throughout. It had been hoped that in certain sections where the rock is exceedingly hard, lining might have dispensed with, but on Mr. A. J. Barry’s late visit it was decided to line it throughout, but with a reduced number of rings of brickwork in those sections that were hard. Because the stratum was full of faults it was feared that the vibration of the train would bring the rock down on top of passing trains. Of the other tunnels the only one which has given any difficulty and on which any extra cost has been incurred is the Taipo tunnel, where heavy landslips were experienced owing to the slushy clay which formed the hillside. This necessitated very elaborate timbering at great cost. Its length is 924 feet, of which 573 feet had been driven, and 158½ feet lined on 31st December last. The other excesses to which I specially alluded, $90,000 salaries. $43,000 accounts include the cost of the salary for a portion of the year of an expert whom we hope to obtain from India to organize the work of opening the line and advise us on several subjects, including negotiations for the joint working agreement with the Canton Section. The loss on exchange is largely responsible for the excess in these two items.

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Prior to 1908 no staff had been provided for accounting. Such accounting work as had required to be done had been done by the chief resident engineer and his staff. The third excess of which I spoke, $47,261 for bridges, arises in part from the increased size of Gascoigne Road bridge, which is due to the fact that it crosses the junction of two roads instead of crossing one of them at right angles. This increased cost is not shown in the1907 estimates, because it was not at that time known what the cost of the iron work in England would be. The cost of the construction of this bridge has been let by contract to Messrs. Leigh and Orange as part of the agreement to which I will shortly allude. Under this head of bridges also a final decision has been taken regarding the bridge over the Taipo river, which has been a subject of much discussion, and it was finally settled by Mr. Barry. The situation in which it has been placed involves well foundations in the Taipo river, at considerably more cost than anticipated originally. It has been raised higher, owing to information which we received from the engineer of the Chinese section as regards flood levels in the Samchun valley and it has also been made with double girders for a double line.

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Council will desire to know whether I have any information to add to my reply of September last to a question asked me by the member who then represented the Chamber of Commerce in this Council as regards certain defective bridges. I said in reply that I had directed that an examination of the bridges in question should be held by the Director of Public Works and Mr. Williams, the engineer of the Naval Docks. Their report, together with the comments of the chief resident engineer, was forwarded to the consulting engineers and so far I have had no reply from them. The result was that Mr. A. J. Barry, who already contemplated a visit to the Far East, was directed to inspect the Kowloon-Canton Railway on behalf of Messrs. Wolfe, Barry and Co., and to report to them. His report has no doubt by this time reached them, and I await their authoritative letter before I can make any official statement to Council. But I am aware of the conclusions at which he arrived. Briefly, I can say he agreed with the eminent engineers who reported to me on that question; that he adversely criticized the principles on which one or more of the bridges had been constructed. The matter is a highly technical one, and according to the memorandum issued by the Colonial Office, technical responsibility for work undertaken by the consulting engineers rests upon them. Direct intervention by the Colonial Government is only justified in case of urgent necessity. If the Government believes the quality of the work to be unsatisfactory it will be beneficial for it to intervene. In my judgment such an occasion had arisen. Under the system upon which this railway is being constructed the consulting engineers are responsible for the conception and execution of the design in accordance with the intentions of the Government, and further responsible that the estimates are adhered to. The chief resident engineer is the nominee of the consulting engineers. He is responsible to them for the technical conduct of the work. I do not disguise from you that I have a misgiving that there will be some addition to the estimates before us in consequence of these defective bridges, but I trust and hope, with good cause, that the addition will not be a large one. You will see for yourselves what the chief resident engineer says on the subject in his report on page 4. I have dealt inconsiderable detail now with the items that involve excesses in the estimates. There remain those under which large savings are shown. Ballast and permanent way show an estimated saving of $51,700; rolling stock, $82,400. As regards the former you will find on page 5 a full explanation of the overestimate by the chief resident engineer, to which I have nothing to add. As regards the overestimate of the rolling stock, it is partly due to a decrease in home prices, and partly to the fact that less rolling stock than anticipated has been ordered. On Mr. Barry’s advice the original order was somewhat reduced. The rolling stock is calculated to last till the end of 1911, but the resident engineer informs me that when the line is opened it will be insufficient, and will have to be augmented. We cannot, however, say exactly what quantity of rolling stock we shall require until the working agreement has been negotiated with the Chinese. I may add too, that the carriages will cost something less than half what had been estimated, for the amount placed on the estimates had been calculated on the basis of carriages for the Shanghai railway, and we find by adopting a less expensive model we can reduce the cost from about $2,000 per carriage  to $1,900. As regards earthwork, under the estimate at the end of 1907, the chief resident engineer already anticipated a saving of over $140,504 on the estimate made in the previous June. Out of this saving, $35,000 will be allocated to a reduction of the bank in the big cutting at the head of Hunghom Bay. This cutting is about 210 feet deep, and the engineers consider that looking to the very pliable nature of the ground it is unsafe to allow the slip to stand without some further precautions to avoid landslips which may block the line for a period of several months. $110,000 is devoted to the prolongation of the sea wall from the storm water drain to Blackhead’s Point. This had long been decided upon but was not included in the December estimates because no definite decision had been arrived at as to its exact location. It had originally been intended to make the wall in straight line to Blackhead’s, but it was set back in order to effect a substantial saving by constructing the wall in shallower water. $40,000 are also required, which I hope will be met from the saving in earthwork, for cutting off the corner on Signal Hill, in order that the railway might obtain a proper curve in approaching Kowloon Station. I turn now to the more pleasant task of reporting the progress which has been made upon the railway during the past year. I think we can describe it as satisfactory on the whole with the exception, perhaps, of the big cutting at Hunghom and the reclamation for the station yard which are let to contract to Messrs. Leigh and Orange.

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As there was a prospect that the time for this would be much exceeded, we entered into negotiations with them in order to obtain the use of what is called the ‘overland route’ construction line which they have made and also in obtaining access to certain areas under reclamation in advance of the completion of the contract. By obtaining running powers over the construction line we they shall facilitate the opening of the railway at a very much earlier date than would otherwise have been possible. In return we have allowed them twelve months’ extension of time for the big cutting which, as I have said, will not delay the opening of the railway. It will be opened over the overland route and they have consented that the penalties for exceeding the contract time shall be trebled. We have also given them two new contracts at rates which will be remunerative to them, viz. the Gascoigne Road bridge and the other in the neighbourhood of Yaumati Station. It will be possible to open the line before the big reclamations are completed. The tunnel progress has been good. On 31st December, 1907, 3,100 feet had been driven and 465 feet had been lined, and on 31st December last, 5,644 feet had been driven and 2,730 feet lined. The progress in 1907 was 40.27 feet per week. Last year it was 68. 15, an increase of some 60 per cent. in spite of the fact that during the great part of 1907 we were working on four faces whereas in 1908 we were only working on two. I have already told you how greatly the cost per foot has been decreased and how the progress has been much more rapid. We hope the headings will meet within the next two or three days. For this wok very great credit is due to Mr. Waite, the tunnel superintendent. We hope the tunnel will be lined and finished by the end of the year and that the permanent way will be laid and the line opened over the ‘overland route’ by May, 1910. We found it advisable to have a small flag station at Taipo market in order to attract some additional traffic, and a small station will also be built at Lo-fu ferry near the frontier. None of these items were included in the original estimates. I may also say that the jetty at Taipo will be lengthened so as to carry it into deep water, and by this we hope to acquire considerably more traffic from across the bay. The cost of these three items is small and will be met, without increasing the estimates, by abolishing high platforms at the small intermediate stations which are not considered necessary. After much discussion with Mr. Barry when he was here, it was decided that the small workshops which would be necessary should be placed on Crown land at the head of Hunghom Bay. It is considered that the building and plant will not cost more than $120,000, which is now included in the estimates. After much discussion it was also decided to locate the terminal station on land near Salisbury Road, where it would be near the various piers where passengers and baggage would be landed, and more central. It would leave the deep water anchorage free for ocean going steamers. This will involve some land resumption which I think well worth doing in order to acquire the advantages which I have just named. It is not possible to say what the cost of these resumptions will be because it will involve a considerable amount of adjustment between the Colonial Government and the railway accounts. The report of the medical officer is very satisfactory.

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Beri-beri and dysentery at the tunnel have decreased by 50 per cent. This is due to better organization and to better methods. The number of coolies employed on the railway throughout the year per day was 3,244. Both sections – our section and the Chinese section, are now well advanced, and we hope before long to undertake negotiations for a joint working agreement. I think, gentlemen, that covers all points on which you are likely to feel interested in the work during the past year and the prospects in the future.” 

   Following His Excellency’s statement, there was much comment in the Hongkong press tending to intimate that mismanagement has been responsible for the doubling of the original estimates. In order to throw additional light on the subject and remove this impression the Hon. Murray Stewart, Chairman of the Committee of the China Association, addressed the following letter to the Editor of the Hongkong Press

   “SIR: -The Committee of the China Association conceive it to be in the public interest to endeavour to dissipate an erroneous impression that Hongkong is being called upon to pay for the Colonial section of the Kowloon-Canton Railway considerably more than the work is worth. The prevalence of this impression is indicated by certain Press comments upon His Excellency the Governor’s speech in Council on the increased estimates. From the general tone of these might also be assumed that mismanagement had led to the doubling of the legitimate cost of construction. 

   “There appears to be a popular idea that the original estimate was for some 5 million dollars; that the work ought not to have cost much more; but that gradually, owing to a series of blunders, the figure has risen to 11 millions. This belief that the cost has been doubled by mismanagement has naturally let to severe criticism being directed against those responsible for the undertaking. I venture to submit that it is not borne out by the full circumstances of the case.

 The first important fact to note is that the estimate of 5 million dollars was mere rough estimate by Mr. Bruce in his original survey. The line beyond Shatin, as planned by him, was a single line throughout, to run along the edge of the sea shore from Lokloha to Taipo. 

   “The alignment which he proposed, and on which this rough estimate was based, had subsequently to be altered because the typhoon of September 1906 showed the shore edge to be unsafe. That typhoon was a revelation in many ways. It taught several lessons to others besides railway engineers, and there is no particular blame attaching to anyone for not having foreseen the possibilities of destruction reposing in the sheltered waters of Mirs Bay. If we can all now see that Mr. Bruce’s original alignment was a mistake, we ought in fairness to remember it was at least excusable under the circumstances.

   “The change in the alignment, removing the track out of reach of the sea, entailed much heavy cutting not contemplated by Mr. Bruce and the boring of three additional tunnels, of which that undertaken at Taipo is in itself a considerable enterprise. It is also important to remember that it was subsequently decided to build all bridge cuttings, and the three additional tunnels, wide enough to admit of a double track being laid, should the necessity for that hereafter arise. Mr. Bruce had not made provision for costly developments of this sort. It was not his business to do so. His business, as described by His Excellency the Governor in the Legislative Council on the 6th February, 1908, was ‘to make a preliminary survey and to base upon it a preliminary estimate.’ How rough an estimate it was may be gathered from His Excellency’s comment upon it in the same speech, in relation to the cost of earthwork. He said ‘it is difficult to know exactly what rates Mr. Bruce had calculated at, because no drawings or calculations of quantities rates were supplied with the estimate.’ Jn justice to Mr. Bruce it should not be forgotten that the first and by far the most important duty which fell upon him was to decide upon the main route of the railway. At one time the Deep Bay route had been recommended. He had to determine which of three different routes should be adopted, and it stands to his credit that his decision on this vital point has been generally admitted to be sound. 

   “The first detailed and authoritative estimate made was that submitted by Mr. Eves in his report dated 4th February, 1908, and laid before the Legislative Council on the 22nd of the same month. If this estimate is compared with that made by Mr. Bruce, it will be seen that the increase is mainly due to five factors: 

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The reasons for the increase in these items have already been alluded to, with the exception of that due to land resumptions in Kowloon, incidental to new and larger ideas of what will be required the terminus. Over and above this there remains an increase of roundly $500,000 – accounted for bv increases under the other sub-heads. 

   “With regard to the difference between Mr. Eves’ estimate, dated 4th February, 1908, and his estimate dated the 9th March last, and laid before the Legislative Council at its last meeting, the excess of the latter over the former is just under $1,150,000. Of this nearly $1,000,000 is due to increased expenditure on Beacon Hill Tunnel. The net increase on the remaining items, as compared with Mr. Eves’ first estimate is just under $150,000 – not a very formidable sum. One reason for the increased cost of Beacon Hill tunnel is to be found in the varied character of the excavation, and another in the phenomenal hardness of the rock met with in parts of the hill, necessitating the use of specially heavy drills, and an enormously increased use of explosives. 

   “The fact that the estimates have been exceeded a common experience in all such undertakings should not be interpreted to mean that the work could have been executed for less. Unless this can be proved there is no justification for thinking that the Colony has so far suffered any loss except on paper. 

   “The members of my Committee have no valid reason to suppose that the cost of the actual work done is excessive, and, this being so, they protest against the advocacy of the belief that there has been ‘gross mismanagement’ in the construction of the British section of the Kowloon-Canton Railway.” 

   On May 17, 1909, three days after the Governor’s speech, the famous Beacon Hill tunnel was pierced, a triumph to British engineering and representing 28 months work against almost insurmountable obstacles. 


  1. The Far Eastern Review, November 1909

This article was first posted on 26th September 2020.

Related Indhhk articles:

  1. The Kowloon Canton Railway (British Section) Part 1 – The Beginning, Three Possible Routes…
  2. The Kowloon Canton Railway (British Section) Part 2 – Construction
  3. The Kowloon-Canton Railway (British Section) Part 3 – the construction of Kowloon Station
  4. The Kowloon Canton Railway (British Section) Part 4 – The Early Years (1910 to 1940)
  5. The Kowloon Canton Railway (British Section) Part 5 – The Post War Years (1945 to 1978)
  6. The Kowloon Canton Railway (British Section) 1910-1940 – major accidents/incidents
  7. Beacon Hill Tunnel, KCR, longest tunnel in China 1910
  8. Beacon Hill Tunnel – Kowloon Canton Railway – further details
  9. KCR Beacon Hill Tunnel Ropeway – 1907
  10. Kenneth Alfred Wolfe Barry, obituary, consultative work for the KCR early 1900s



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