West Rail – Part 2 Detailed Feasibility Study
Tymon Mellor: In the month following the publication of the Railway Development Strategy in December 1994, the Government invited the KCRC to submit a proposal for the Western Corridor Railway with a proposed project completion in 2001. KCRC had already mobilised the specialist skills needed to undertake the task and soon commenced the preparation of a detailed feasibility study (DFS) for the new line.
The chairman of the KCRC at the time was Kevin Hyde, a former head of New Zealand Railways and had been appointed in 1990 to revitalise the KCRC. He was renowned for his cost cutting achievements, creating new opportunities and establishing a customer orientated train service. He joined the Corporation when it was at a low ebb as the company had had a litany of troubles over the previous two years and needed focus and direction. The company’s problems included a troubled opening of the Light Rail System in Tuen Mun with delays and pedestrian fatalities. This was followed by a ‘golden handshake’ scandal when two departing directors set their own leaving fees. Questions about accountability, fighting within the board and loss of confidence with Government resulted in the departure of the previous managing director and chairman.
Mr Hyde inherited a company which was running profitably and with few staffing problems, and so his focus was on improving the train service and making the Corporation more customer focused. This included staff appearance, attitude and efficiency, vehicle and station cleanliness etc. He also wanted to explore connecting the light rail network with Shenzhen and establishing a freight line from the Chinese border to the port along with repairing the relationship with Government.
Kevin Hyde (1995)
In January and February 1991, two consultants were appointed by the KCRC to start looking into the long-term strategic freight options. The consultants were A T Kearney, an American consultant with a specialised background in freight rail, particular knowledge of intermodal operations, with extensive Chinese experience, and Maunsell Consultants Asia, who provided technical support and prepared capital cost estimates for the schemes. Both consultants would also be key members of the joint venture that would prepare the Railway Development Study, commissioned by the Government later in the year in December 1991.
Detailed Feasibility Study
In January 1995, following publication by Government of its Railway Development Strategy, the Secretary for Transport wrote to KCRC requesting it to submit a proposal for the construction and operation of the Western Corridor Railway. The letter called for an initial proposal to be provided by June 1995, to be followed by a full proposal by the end of September 1995. Accompanying the letter from the Secretary for Transport was an Outline Project Brief setting out the detailed requirements for the proposal.
KCRC DFS Proposal (1995)
The KCRC immediately mobilised the consultants it had previously worked with to prepare the initial and final proposal. Bechtel, a large US corporation had been providing support to the Corporation since mid-1993 and was mobilised to manage the preparation of the proposal. They were supported by:
- Maunsell to develop the alignment and preliminary design;
- ERM Hong Kong looking at the environmental aspects;
- MVA Asia Ltd providing patronage modelling;
- Chesterton Petty Ltd on land and commercial opportunities;
- Maunsell Geotechnical Services Ltd to assess the ground risks.
- A T Kearney was retained to provide transportation planning and other inputs;
- Charles Rivers Associates to undertake an in-depth analysis and forecast of cross-border passengers using their previous experience in this field particularly with the Chinese Ministry of Railways;
- HSBC Investment Bank Asia providing financial analysis;
- Johnson Stokes & Master to advise on legal empowerment;
- Hill & Kowloon Asia Ltd, a community and public relations advisor;
- Terry Farrell & Co, for the West Kowloon Passenger Terminal concept design;
- Rust Kennedy & Donkin Ltd, advising on traction power, rolling stock and train simulation;
- Mercer / VZM, advising on freight management system;
- Johnson & Higgins, for risk management;
- Brunswick, for strategic communications to the financial community;
- SPB Hong Kong Ltd, to undertake traffic impact assessments; and
- Burson Marsteller, to carry out community relations.
The team was supported by existing KCRC staff and the previous Director of East Rail Ian McPherson, who now headed the West Rail Division.
Ian McPherson (1996)
The Outline Project Brief was based on the RDS proposals with the terminal station stopping short of Tuen Mun. Following the concerns of the Legislators in May 1995, the Government requested KCRC to examine extending the line into Tuen Mun town centre.
The KCRC team reviewed the brief and two problematic issues became immediately obvious. The scheme was to be completed by 2001 but the West Kowloon reclamation required for the construction of the terminal station would not be completed until 2002. Thus, it would be necessary to phase the works with the final section of tunnel and the West Kowloon Passenger Terminal to be commissioned by 2006. Given the strategic importance of the new station for cross-border services, the Hung Hom ‘through train’ terminus would need to be utilised in the short term. The second problem was funding as the project was beyond the Corporation’s ability to finance it and would require Government support. However, the operation of the system would meet the KCRC commercial and financial objectives.
The project proposal provided:
- Freight services from the border to Kwai Chung via a Port Rail Link;
- Through-train services from the border to West Kowloon Passenger Terminal, with an interim terminus at Hung Hom;
- Cross border services at Lok Ma Chau with connection to both West Rail and East Rail;
- Domestic services between Tuen Mun Centre and West Kowloon Passenger Terminal, initially terminating at Yen Chow Street until the terminal station was complete;
- Intermediate stations at Tuen Mun North, Tin Shui Wai, Long Ping Yuen Long, Kam Tin, Tsuen Wan West, Mei Foo and Yen Chow Street; and
- Interchange stations with MTR at Mei Foo, Yen Chow Street and West Kowloon.
Project Proposal (1995)
In 1995, the Kwai Chung terminals were reaching their marine capacity and proposals were in motion to build a new facility off Lantau. The terminal operators saw the Port Rail Link as an opportunity to “open up the heartland of China to world trade”, comparing the development of the Chinese rail-based container traffic to the US experience where intermodal traffic had grown 39% between 1986 and 1992. The view was that if they could capture a small percentage of the total container market, the Port Rail Link would have similar potential.
A detailed demand forecast was developed based on:
- Projections made on the foreign trade growth for China;
- The growth was then allocated to each region;
- The regional products flowing in and out were assessed to see if they could be containerised;
- Rail eligible cargo was projected allowing freight forecasts to be developed.
To support an intermodal system, a Northern Freight Yard would be established at Kwu Tong for sorting, storage, re-handling and dispatching of containers. The yard would also be used to re-package break-bulk freight into containers for transfer to the port. The line would use double stack container trains, similar to that adopted in the US.
Example of Double Stack Container Train
This analysis projected a maximum sustainable throughput of 3.9 million TEU a year or around 10,000 TEU a day. This equated to around 30 double stack container trains a day, using a computer controlled, ‘just in time’ approach. The Government considered the forecasts to be conservative and robust as they were lower than the 1996 Port Development Board forecasts for rail freight volumes.
KCRC Freight Forecast (1995)
The freight assessment was dependent on many assumptions, a key one being that China would develop a rail based freight network. As noted in the RDS report, the number of containers carried on trains in 1991 was 57,000 TEU, and this was limited by the need to develop dedicated rolling stock to meet the maximum gross weight limits that the railways could accommodate.
The service would operate using double stack articulated wagons as a 500m long fixed unit train. The vehicle would have a top speed of 100kph and operate an integrated service with the domestic and through trains with up to 4 trains an hour. This would provide a carrying capacity of 1.9 million TEU per year.
Northern Freight Yard (1996)
Through Train Service
The through train service would provide a fast, frequent, premium-priced train service between West Kowloon and China, principally Guangzhou. The trip would be 15 minutes faster than on the existing East Rail, making it a more attractive option. The forecast indicated a patronage of 6 million passengers a year by 2011. For reference, MTR reported that the total number of cross boundary through train passengers in 2011 was just over 100,000. Not a good day for the patronage modelling team!
The service would have a carrying capacity of 800 people per train, with a top speed of 160kph using twin locomotives operating a maximum of two trains per hour.
Cross Border Passenger Service
The DFS recognised the importance of cross-border passenger traffic noting that the Lo Wu crossing had a design capacity of 125,000 passengers per day and was already dealing with 140,000 on festival days. A second border-crossing would be constructed at Lok Ma Chau and connected into Western Corridor Railway and East Rail. Two operational options were proposed, a shuttle service between Lok Ma Chau and Kam Tin or a direct service to Lok Ma Chau bifurcating from the domestic route at Kam Tin. The forecast for the cross-border was 250,000 people a day between the two crossings by 2011. MTR does not provide data on the cross-boundary traffic, but the Census and Statistic Department reports that in 2011 just under 50 million Hong Kong residents crossed in the year or around 140,000 a day. In the same year 23 million mainland visitors crossed in to Hong Kong, say 65,000 a day, giving a total of 205,000. The forecast was only 18% off – take that as a win for the modelling team !
Cross-Border Service (1995)
The service would operate using 12-car Electric Multiple Units (EMU) trains 300m long, as adopted on East Rail at the time, with a maximum speed of 130kph. The EMUs would operate at a peak service of 20 trains per hour per direction or a 3-minute headway carrying a maximum of 67,000 passengers per hour.
The patronage modelling for the DFS used the latest in computer modelling developed by MVA, the experts in this field. The model established a supply and demand forecast for ridership taking account of population, employment, transportation options, service levels and fares. Using the concept of ‘value of time’, it calculated the forecast passenger demand and revenue. The model predicted an opening patronage in 2001 of 300,000 a day rising to 700,000 by 2011. Following the merger in 2008, published patronage data for West Rail is no longer available, but patronage data for September and October 2014 was published by the Government, showing that the average weekday daily patronage was 453,200, well short of the original forecast. Possible reasons will be discussed in a later article.
West Kowloon Passenger Terminal
As part of the Airport Core Programme, a large reclamation was required in West Kowloon for the new road and railway infrastructure. At the southern edge of the reclamation, MTR Kowloon Station and the new Western Corridor Railway terminus station, West Kowloon Passenger Terminal (WKPT) were to be located.
The WKPT station was to be an eight-platform underground station, with four platforms for the domestic EMU service of 300m long and four platforms of 400m long for the through train services. The station would include immigration and customs facilities for the through train passengers. It would have an interchange with the MTRC Airport Express and Tung Chung lines via escalators running from the concourse to the level above and a footbridge connecting to the commercial development above the MTRC Kowloon Station.
West Kowloon Passenger Terminal (1995)
South of the station, the line would be extended through the proposed Kowloon Point reclamation to Tsim Sha Tsui and east to Hung Hom. A new station would be constructed within the reclamation to serve the Canton Road area. This section of the line would be constructed as a separate project and be part of the East Kowloon Route, linking West Kowloon to Hung Hom, Diamond Hill and Tai Wai.
Construction of the WKPT could only be undertaken following completion of the reclamation for the terminal site (Contract YM6) forecasted for 2002, and so it was proposed that the construction of the station would be undertaken in two stages to mitigate the late site availability. The ﬁrst stage would be the construction of the portion of the station shell that lies within the earlier YM4 reclamation area. The second stage would construct the remainder of the terminal and complete the track line segment from Yen Chow Street Station to the terminal.
At the south end, the railway had to be constructed through the new reclamation before passing northwards into the existing urban environment. The line would then pass under Tai Mo Shan and into rural New Territories where it would have a major impact on the existing drainage systems, passing through villages and the new towns of Yuen Long, Long Ping, Tin Shui Wai, and Tuen Mun.
To save cost, wherever possible, the alignment was set at-grade, that is at ground level, normally on a shallow embankment to avoid flooding, an example being the section of East Rail north of Tai Po. At Ha Kwai Chung and Tsing Tsuen, hard rock tunnels were required to pass through the hillside with cut and cover tunnel approaches. From Tsuen Wan West, a hard rock tunnel, 5.6km long was required to pass under the Tai Lam Country Park and into the depot at Kam Tin and with bifurcation to Tuen Mun and Lo Wu.
Heading to Tuen Mun, the railway starts off on an embankment with a viaduct crossing the rivers and drainage nullahs. Through the new towns of Yuen Long, Long Ping and Tin Shui Wai, viaduct construction was adopted before returning to embankment and viaduct to the end of the line at Tuen Mun centre.
The spur to Lo Wu and Lok Ma Chau adopted mostly embankment but included hard rock tunnels, cuttings and viaduct. The Northern Freight Yard was established on a raised platform to avoid flooding.
DFS Alignment and Infrastructure Proposal (1995)
The railway would require over 4 million m2 of land, 1.3 million m2 being resumed from private hands and comprising of over 2,600 lots. Property development opportunities were identified associated with the railway but would need discussion to ensure the developments would meet planning and environmental needs.
To meet the 2001 opening, construction would need to commence in September 1997 for the Tai Lam tunnel and in 1998 for the remainder of the works. To achieve the programme, a number of engineering studies would be required along with geotechnical investigations and base mapping of the route. It was planned to tender the technical studies in early 1996 and to commence the detailed design in May 1997.
The Next Step
The DFS was submitted to Government in November 1995 with an estimated implementation cost rising from $32 billion to $75 billion. The proposal was controversial, as many considered the freight forecast to be unrealistic and most considered the cost to be unacceptable. A new interest group, ‘The Hong Kong Institute for Infrastructure Development’ considered the project ‘extraordinarily expensive and not seriously viable’, suggesting that the MTR system should be extended from Tsuen Wan to Tuen Mun as an alternative.
There was however a bigger problem. Since the project would not be complete before the handover in June 1997, it needed the blessing of the mainland authorities through the Joint Liaison Group (JLG). A meeting in January 1996 with Chinese officials did not go well, with Haider Barma, the Secretary for Transport noting that, ‘I understand there is some concern about the price the Kowloon-Canton Railway Corporation estimated, but this is an estimate’. Clearly, he has never worked with builders, as the estimate is the starting price! A Chinese team member, Chen Zuo’er noted, ‘China will take a positive approach towards infrastructure development only if the projects are cost-effective and beneficial to livelihood’. Discussion on the details would commence once China had agreed on the project need.
Further problems were evident, as the Lands Department considered the resumption programme to be too aggressive for the 2,600 private lots and required an additional year to secure the land. Things were not helped by the KCRC keeping the final route alignment secret in order to avoid property speculation. To top it all, there was a political backlash over the use of foreign consultants and the procurement approach adopted by the KCRC. By June 1996 the KCRC had spent $434 million on studies and of that $110.1 million, a total of 51 contracts had been awarded without competitive tendering.
Mr Hyde’s attempts to build a good relationship with Government was on the rocks. His contract was not renewed and he was replaced by K Y Yeung at the end of 1996. An subsequent investigation found that all contracts awarded were within the operating policies and procedures of the company. An ICAC review highlighted a few minor procurement issues but this would not be the last time the ICAC became involved with the project.
The question now was how to cut costs and get endorsement from the JLG.
- Exalted corporation head has work cut out, SCMP, 1 Jul 1990 ↑
- No job cuts, says new KCRC chief, SCMP, 6 Oct 1900 ↑
- New boss puts ideas on track, SCMP, 6 Jan 1991 ↑
- Examination by Government of KCRC’s Tendering Practice and Procedures, Legco Paper, CB(1) 2085/95-96(01), 24 Sept 1996 ↑
- LegCo Panel on Transport, Subcommittee on Western Corridor Railway Project, Meeting on 28 June 1996 ↑
- Review of the Western Corridor Railway, Extension to Tuen Mun Town Centre, Legco Panel on Transport, May 1995 ↑
- Executive Summary, KCRC Western Corridor Railway Project, Full Proposal to Hong Kong Government, November 1995 ↑
- Port needs rail link to China, SCMP, 5 Mar 1993 ↑
- Railway Development, Final Report, Volume 1 – Text, May 1993 ↑
- https://www.mtr.com.hk/en/corporate/investor/patronage.php#search ↑
- https://gia.info.gov.hk/general/201412/17/P201412170530_0530_139306.pdf ↑
- Railway Development Study, April 1993 ↑
- Criticism of soaring cost dismissed, SCMP, 19 Jan 1996 ↑
- Call to shelve port, rail plans, SCMP, 2 Feb 1996 ↑
- Criticism of soaring cost dismissed, SCMP, 19 Jan 1996 ↑
- Rail plan delayed by year, SCMP, 3 Feb 1996 ↑
- Examination by Government of KCRC’s Tendering Practice and Procedures, LegCo Transport Panel Sub-committee CB(1) 2085/95-96(1), 24 Sep 1996 ↑
This article was first posted on 24th July 2023.
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