West Rail – Part 3 Technical Studies

Tymon Mellor: Following the submission in November 1995 by the KCRC of a detailed feasibility study (DFS) for the Western Corridor Railway, the Government had a full proposal for the line, including an updated cost at $75 billion; more than twice the original estimate. To achieve a proposed opening in 2001, preliminary engineering and design works would need to commence in January 1996. The Government was in a bind, it needed to agree a funding strategy, gain mainland endorsement and establish a credible land acquisition programme. Something would have to give.

Project Endorsement

Following the submission of the DFS, a series of discussions and presentations were made to the Legislative Council’s Transport Panel Briefing and the Joint Liaison Group (JLG), the mainland committee formed to review and endorse project that would span the handover. The audience was generally receptive, recognising the community need for the line, but there was concern over the cost and the reliability of the forecasts, particularly the freight projections.

In February 1996, the Government granted the KCRC ‘interim empowerment’ to proceed with the development of the scheme. By the summer, the LegCo Panel on Transport formed a subcommittee for the Western Corridor Railway Project, chaired by the Hon. Mrs Miriam Lau Kin-yee. At the first meeting on the 21st Jun, 1996 frustration was expressed by the members with the slow pace of progress and the lack of transparency. The Acting Secretary for Transport, Mr. Paul Leung, said the target date for the completion of the project might be too optimistic as a significant number of issues were involved including engineering alignment, legislative programme, financial arrangements and the most time consuming of all, land resumption.

Mr Leung explained that the studies completed so far covered only 5% of the design and more detailed technical studies would be required before the Administration could formulate its views and agree the programme. The panel requested the KCRC delay awarding the $750 million of technical studies contracts until they had time to fully understand the project. The committee were in the dark, the KCRC submission had not been released to them. Following confirmation from Mr Leung that the KCRC proposal could be released to the subcommittee[1], it was distributed to the members.

Proposed West Kowloon Station (1998)

The discussions with the subcommittee were side tracked by a scandal over the award of contracts without competitive tendering and the use of outside consultants to develop the proposal. As a result, the contract for the KCRC’s chairman Kevin Hyde was not renewed and in December 1996 the Secretary of Transport, Gordon Siu Kwing-chue announced the appointment of Yeung Kai yin who would take over as the chief executive of the Corporation in December 1996[2]. Mr Yeung was previously an executive director at Sino Land and former secretary for transport.

Discussions with JLG and mainland officials were successful and in October, 1996 the JLG endorsed the project[3], but doubts remained about the freight forecast. All parties acknowledged the growth in container traffic, but with investments in Chinese ports at Yantian and Shekou and the rapid growth in the Chinese road network, it was noted that road delivery of containers would be fast and cheap. There was no obvious benefit of using a rail-based delivery model. The Chinese officials thought the freight numbers were unrealistic and suggested that the focus should be on domestic passengers[4].

On the 11th December, 1996 Mr Siu, the Secretary for Transport announced that the construction of West Rail would proceed in two phases. Phase I of the system would comprise the domestic passenger line from Yen Chow Street to Tuen Mun Centre to be completed to Yuen Long by 2002 and then to Tuen Mun by 2003. Phase II would complete the system with the Kam Tin to Lok Ma Chau and Sheung Shui and the Northern Freight Yard. The Government believed this revised approach would reduce the cost of Phase I from $56.4 billion to $49.6 billion[5] providing a $6 billion saving.

In January 1997, the first reading of the Railway Bill took place, this would give the KCRC the legal framework to build the new line. This would allow the Corporation to publicly delineate the route and for objections to be received and addressed. It also gave the KCRC and Government the powers to access private land for site investigation and subsequent acquisition of land for the project[6].

Technical Studies

The technical study phase of the project would define the alignment of the railway and the major structures, sufficient to support land resumption discussions and to commence the necessary statutory processes associated with the environment impact and operational safety. Although Phase II of the line was no longer to be constructed in the near term, the future requirements of freight and the ‘through train’ had to be incorporated into the design for the sections on the line where they would operate. Their needs also had to be accommodated within the operational and safety planning.

Technical Study Consultants Geographical Areas (1997)

The proposed multimodal nature of the line and the traffic densities were at or in excess of any railway operating at the time, resulting in a unique railway gauge and challenging safety and operational concerns. It was forecast that the line would be carrying 144.5 million gross tonnes of freight a year, or twice the total of the whole of the UK[7]. To ensure that the line capacity could be met, double stack freight trains were to be adopted using high performance vehicles, similar to the domestic Electric Multiple Units (EMU) trains. Special studies were undertaken on the performance of the freight trains, the resultant track loading, and the type of trackform required to accommodate the higher train speeds and 36T freight axle loads, more than twice the 16T loads used on the MTR.

With positive progress on project endorsement, in the summer of 1996 tenders were issued to procure consultants to undertake the technical studies needed to define the line in more detail.

Package Title Company
TS-100 Northern Section Acer Atkins Kaiser JV
TS-200 Western Section Halcrow
TS-300 Central Section Atkins Haswell
TS-400 Southern Section Acer Atkins Kaiser JV
TS-500 West Kowloon Passenger Terminal Ove Arup & Partners Hong Kong Ltd
TS-600 Kam Tin Maintenance Depot Parsons Brinckerhoff (Asia)
TS-900 Environmental Impact Assessment ERM
TS-1000 Safety and Reliability ERM International Risk Management Services British Rail JV
TS-1150 Intermodal Freight/Freight Management System TranSystems Corporation
TS-1200 Tunnel Ventilation/Aerodynamics Parsons Brinckerhoff (Asia)
TS-1300 Train Control and Signalling Booz-Allen & Hamilton
TS-1310 Evaluation of ATC Supplier Technology Booz-Allen & Hamilton
TS-1400 Traction Power/Catenary Parsons Brinckerhoff (Asia)
TS-1500 Telecommunications System Kennedy and Donkin
TS-1650 Automatic Fare Collection In House
TS-1800 Permanent Way Halcrow
TS-1801 Vehicle Track Dynamics Study Association of American Railroads
TS-1802 Non-Ballasted Track Study Battelle
TS-1900 EMU Rolling Stock Booz-Allen & Hamilton
TS-2000 LRT Systems Interfaces Kaiser Hyder
TS-2100 Freight Rolling Stock Incorporated into TS-1900
TS-3000 General Engineering and Architectural Services Binnie Consultants Ltd

Several of the existing consultants would be retained[7], these included:

  • Pacific Bechtel Corporation Project Management Advisor
  • HSBC Investment Bank Asia Ltd. Financial Advisor
  • Chesterton Petty Land Advisor
  • Johnson Stokes & Master Legal Advisor
  • Hill & Knowlton Public Relations Advisor
  • A.T. Kearney Freight and Transportation Advisor
  • Johnson & Higgins Risk and Insurance Advisor

Starting in November 1996, the technical studies were divided into two phases. Phase 1 would establish the basic parameters for the line, sufficient for statutory processes to proceed and for interfacing parties to commence their work. This covered alignment, major civil structures, environmental studies for the EIA, safety provisions, freight requirements and tunnel ventilation needs. With this information, other studies could commence on the civil works, environmental impacts, operational safety along with the railway operations and systems design. The phase 2 studies commenced in February 1997, refining the civil works design, accommodating the initial responses from the land acquisition considerations, environmental reviews, systems and operational requirements.

Technical Studies Work Programme (1997)

Design Development

With the new consultants mobilised, work could commence on preparing the design. However, circumstances had changed since the DFS had been submitted and this needed to be reflected in the design. The key developments being:

  • Following public outrage at the extent of reclamation proposed in the harbour, new legislation was being prepared i.e. the Protection of the Harbour Ordinance, which was first read in December 1996 and then passed in June 1997. This effectively put an end to reclamation in the harbour and consequently to the railway alignment from WKPT to Tsim Sha Tsui as well. A new solution would be required for the southern portion of the line when it was eventually constructed. This would become the Kowloon Southern Link project.
  • Railway embankment had been adopted through the rural areas, crossing drainage paths and areas susceptible to flooding. The embankment was seen to exacerbate flooding and attracted criticism. Furthermore, the presence of the fenced embankment would separate communities and limited the options for future development. To mitigate these concerns, it was agreed that the railway would be elevated on viaduct segregating the line from ground level constraints.
  • Following extensive consultation, in April 1998 the Environmental Impact Ordinance was enacted. At the time, the bill was one of the strictest in the world in terms of protecting the community by placing a limit on the generation of noise. This would require a complete re-think for the railway viaduct design.

Noise Mitigation

As one of the first railways in the world to be faced with such strict noise level limits several workshops and detailed reviews were undertaken to understand the problem and propose possible mitigations. A modern railway operating at the speeds proposed for West Rail would normally generate wayside noise of around 88 dB(A). The new Noise Control Ordinance limited the average noise over a 30-minute period to a maximum of 55 dB(A) during the hours from 11:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m. The ordinance required the noise to be mitigated at the source, so allowing for the offset from the tracks to the nearest building, a reduction of 24dB(A) was required.

The wayside noise consists of three principal components:

  • mechanical system noise, of which the air conditioner is the most significant along with traction motors. Mechanical noise can be addressed through the design process, thus the vehicle specification included requirements setting noise level sufficiently less than the target noise level that they could be ignored providing the specification was met by the manufacturer;
  • wheel/rail interface generates noise, this is typically the dominant airborne noise component and had previously been addressed with the use of noise barriers; and
  • re-radiated noise from the viaduct structure, where train vibration is re-radiated by the structure, include any noise barriers mounted on the viaduct.

West Rail Noise Source

The simple use of high noise barriers was not sufficient to enable such large reductions in direct train noise: the theoretical maximum performance of noise barriers was around 21 dB(A) and would not be sufficient to meet the Ordinance’s noise limit. In practice, noise barriers will provide only 15 dB(A) attenuation as the performance is often limited by environmental conditions, such as wind turbulence around the top of the barrier. Therefore, the requirement for noise mitigation in the West Rail far exceeded the performance of conventional noise barrier systems. The only existing mitigation capable of achieving compliance was full noise enclosure. However, full enclosures had significant safety and civil engineering implications and so were rejected as a suitable method of mitigation.

To meet the requirements of the Ordinance without the use of full enclosures, an innovative solution was sought combining potential vehicle, structure and wayside noise screening treatments to provide a cumulative mitigation solution. This solution was developed over a series of months through a working group comprised of environmental, civil engineering, trackworks and train designers.

Leading the study was an engineer called Alan Crockett from Wilson Ihrig & Associates, a subconsultant to ERM. Alan developed the idea of plenums and went on to model the system to refine the acoustic and structural arrangement. He would go on to draft the material specifications and witness the material testing and trials to ensure they would meet the project’s needs. Working with KCRC’s track team under John Carlisle, the group developed a floating track arrangement to meet the acoustic requirements, as well as to allow for rapid installation and provide a low maintenance track form.

The initial structural designers were not familiar with the special needs of railway bridges and attempted to adopt a typical highway viaduct design. This being a seven span arrangement providing a cost-effective structural solution but introducing several constraints on the railway operations, notably the need for rail movement joints in the track form. These would require regular maintenance and would impose a higher risk of vehicle derailment. It was agreed that the more costly simply supported viaduct span would be utilised to, meet the safety requirements of the line, minimise the need for rail movement joints, and to provide the stiffness needed for the floating track slab. It would not be until the detailed designer for the viaduct was on board, Ove Arup & Partners with their more experienced engineer Naeem Hussain that the final configuration of the viaduct could be finalised.

The main contributor to train noise is the rolling steel wheel on the steel rail interface, and this was the area that needed the most mitigation. This was achieved by a ‘multi-plenum’ approach, which is a three-stage process:

  • under car noise absorption and vehicle skirts sited above the track derailment kerb formed an underfloor plenum. In this space, the noise level would be attenuated by the absorptive material on the car and limiting the size if the gap between the vehicle skirt and the derailment kerb for the noise to escape;
  • the side evacuation walkways were used to form an outer plenum, in conjunction with a central wall. These two viaduct plenums, with sound absorbent material applied to the inner walls, formed noise attenuating spaces on each side of the vehicle which captured the noise discharging from the under-car plenum; and
  • further noise attenuation was provided by absorptive parapet edge barriers on the viaduct. These barriers had a minimum height of 1.2 m above the walkway along the full length of the viaduct.

West Rail Multi-Plenum System (1997)

In noise sensitive areas, the side barriers were extended up to 4.2m above the tracks or a full noise enclosure was provided over limited lengths. The three-stage plenum and barrier was so effective that the airborne noise was reduced to about 60 dB(A) for reference conditions. The dominant noise source was now the re-radiated noise from the structure.

In order to adequately reduce the structure radiated noise, the vibration generated at the wheel/rail interface needed to be prevented from propagating down into the structure where it could be radiated as noise. This needed to be accomplished without significant increase of the airborne noise radiated from the track form or rail.

This was achieved by the incorporation of a floating slab track isolation system, whereby the rails were attached to heavy precast concrete slabs supported on rubber bearings. While similar to the floating slab track systems traditionally used in tunnels to control vibration into structures, there were some important differences:

  • the frequencies to be mitigated were higher than usually targeted with floating track slab. A 16 Hz floating slab system was required to achieve this;
  • noise radiated from the slab itself needed to be controlled, thus a soft rail fastener were adopted; and
  • the efficiency of the floating slab system was reduced by the mobility of the viaduct, thus a stiffer than usual viaduct spans were required.

Extensive numerical analysis, checked against noise and vibration measurement data taken on existing railway viaducts was used to calibrate the design. A key aspect was to ensure that the viaduct provided a solid base for the floating slab to sit on. This dictated the stiffening of the overall viaduct section and careful positioning of the webs and fillets to the viaduct deck.

FST System Test (2000)

Through the development process, the civil structure, track and train were optimised to meet the noise control requirements. This was achieved by using an integrated design approach for the three elements, right from the conceptual design stage. Given this would be the largest application of floating slab in the world with over 34 track km, full scale trials were undertaken to confirm the system was constructable and would meet the performance requirements.

Optimised West Rail Viaduct Structure

Other Environmental Considerations

In addition to addressing operational noise, West Rail contributed to reducing the air pollution from vehicle exhaust emissions, one of Hong Kong’s most serious environmental problems at the time. It did this by reducing the need for road travel and eliminated more than 1,000 tonnes of vehicle exhaust emissions per year.

In keeping with the environmentally-friendly principle, a regenerative braking system was adopted on the trains to enable a significant amount of the power required to drive the trains to be recovered and fed back into the power transmission system, thus keeping energy demands to a minimum.

West Rail’s Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) represents the first time that archaeological impacts have been included in an assessment. Of special interest was the Tsui Shing Lau Pagoda at Ping Shan, one of the oldest buildings in Hong Kong and in close proximity to the Tin Shui Wai station. KCRC carried out surveys at the site and continued monitoring during construction to ensure that this important landmark was not be affected by West Rail.

Tin Shui Wai Station Construction and Tsui Shing Lau Pagoda (2000)

Another special environmental feature of the West Rail project was the re-creation of more than 12 hectares of wetlands in the Kam Tin Valley for rare species of birds, frogs and other organisms. KCRC ensured that provisions were made for the long-term management and maintenance of this habitat as a feeding and breeding ground for these birds and frogs[8].

The Route

West Rail Phase I comprised 30.5 km of alignment, nine stations, a depot, and a headquarters building housing a central operations control centre. It included Hong Kong’s longest transport tunnel at the time (subsequently beaten by the Express Rail Link at over 7km), a 5.5 km bored rock tunnel beneath the mountainous Tai Lam Country Park, built without disturbance to the country park and to the existing water services installations running through the mountains.

Beginning in the south, the alignment commenced below grade at the Nam Cheong over-run tunnel, immediately south of the West Kowloon Prince Edward Road interchange. The over-run tunnel rose to Nam Cheong station, a side-platform station at grade. Nam Cheong was unique in that it was a jointly owned station with the MTR Corporation and contains facilities for both West Rail and the MTR Tung Chung Line. Extensive discussions were undertaken with MTR on how the two railway operations could be jointly managed. With a common station control centre, it was agreed that the station manager from each company would run the station on alternative weeks. Following the merger of the two railway corporations in 2007, the ticket gate lines between the two networks were removed and holes were cut through common walls to allow direct cross platform connection.

The West Rail route then followed the West Kowloon Expressway northwards, running generally at grade, with a short underground section at the West Kowloon Lai Wan Interchange before curving right across the Lai Chi Kok Park to Mei Foo station. Although the tracks in this section are generally at grade, it was contained within a landscaped box structure for environmental purposes. Mei Foo, a side platform station constructed at grade partially below the elevated Lai Chi Kok Bridge. This station was also contained within a landscaped box and with an innovative rooftop parkland integrated with the park environment. Extensive discussions were undertaken with the residents of Mei Foo Sun Chuen who objected to the presence of the line.

From Mei Foo, the alignment headed northwards on a left-hand curve, through the Ha Kwai Chung section where a bored rock tunnel was proposed. At Ha Kwai Chung, a junction was designed in the rock tunnel for the merger of the passenger tracks and future freight tracks to the Port Rail Terminal.

The alignment continued northwards in the Tsing Tsuen Tunnel, through soft ground as a cut and cover tunnel, under a portion of Kwai Fuk Road before transitioning back to bored rock tunnel at Tsing Tsuen Road Tunnel. The Tsing Tsuen Road Tunnel extended northwards towards the sites of the Wah Kai and Paul Y Industrial Buildings, both of which would needed to be acquired and demolished to make way for construction. The alignment then transitions to cut-and-cover tunnel northwards to Tsuen Wan West station (TWW).

Demolition of Wah Kai and Paul Y Industrial Buildings (2000)

The location of TWW station required a new reclamation of approximately five hectares be developed in Tsuen Wan Bay. This necessitated the demolition and re-provisioning of the Tsuen Wan Ferry Pier along with all the DSD culvert discharge and WSD sea water intakes.

From TWW, the alignment continued in cut-and-cover tunnel northwards to the former site of Shun Kei Factory Estate, which again was demolished to make way for construction, where it entered the Tai Lam rock tunnel. The tunnel passed below the Water Services Department (WSD) Water Tunnel No. 3. The alignment then continued to climb to the north portal where it exited on a broad right-hand curve.

From the north portal, the alignment continued into the Kam Tin Valley, with Pat Heung Depot maintenance and stabling facilities on the west side and additional stabling on the east side. Covering 32.5 hectares, this is the largest railway depot in Hong Kong.

Leaving the depot, the alignment curves slightly to the west with a track speed of up to 130 kilometres per hour before the tracks separate to enter the double-island platform of Kam Sheung Road station (KSR). The depot and alignment to KSR were on embankment until the tracks rose onto viaduct as they enter KSR platform level.

The alignment from KSR northwards was primarily on viaduct. To the north of KSR station a complex junction arrangement was designed for the future Phase II works, enabling works undertaken to allow construction with the minimum impact to the line. The Phase I alignment turned to the west, traversing a short cut section through Au Tau Hill, before crossed the Drainage Services Department (DSD) drainage channel, Route 3 and Castle Peak Road and proceeded at a high level into Yuen Long.

Yuen Long Station (2000)

Yuen Long station (YUL) was an elevated island platform station which links with the Light Rail Transit terminus. To the west of YUL, the alignment was on viaduct following a highly constrained corridor formed by Long Yip Street, Yuen Long On Lok Road and a principal drainage nullah straddled by Long Ping station (LOP), another elevated island platform station.

To the west of LOP, the alignment remained elevated before reaching Tin Shui Wai station (TIS). This elevated island platform station was a key West Rail/Light Rail/bus interchange facility serving the rapidly expanding Tin Shui Wai community.

From the elevated TIS, the alignment continued on viaduct with trains operating at maximum speeds of 130 kilometres per hour en route to Siu Hong station (SIH) in the northern area of Tuen Mun New Town. SIH was an island platform station and was built over the Tuen Mun drainage nullah adjacent to the Light Rail Siu Hong stop. From SIH, the alignment followed alongside the nullah in a 700 metre enclosed amenity structure with public park facilities provided on the rooftop. The alignment returned to viaduct before entering the Tuen Mun station (TUM), also elevated above the nullah. As the terminus of the Tuen Mun branch, TUM was to be a three-track, two-island platform station with public transport interchange. Track over-runs were to be provided just south of the station.

With a total length of 30.5km, 11.5km of the route was underground, 5.4km on the surface and 13.4km elevated.

Tuen Mun Station (2000)

Railway Operations

Based on the East Rail experience, the KCRC had extensive operations experience with the different types of services to be operated on the new line. Martin Brown the East Rail operation manager, worked with the team to develop an Operations and Maintenance Plan, the first issue being published in August 1996. Martin was an experienced railway man, having spent many years working for British Rail before joining KCRC. He was very much a people person, speaking Cantonese he loved to visit the workshop and offices, chatting with the team to bring everyone along on his journey. He would also represent the Corporation at many of the LegCo briefing sessions, providing a voice of knowledge and experience.

Martin Brown at a LegCo Panel Meeting (2002)

As a multi-modal railway, the operational requirements dictated many of the civil design provisions. The most important being the railway gauge. The tall double stack freight train required a contact wire height of 6.7m, significantly higher than the 5.3m adopted on East Rail, forcing the tunnels and structures to be much larger than for conventional railways. The freight trains also had a gradient limitation of 1% rather than the 3.5% adopted for normal EMU traffic. The freight train also had a significantly higher fire load, with possible similar risks as the Channel Tunnel fire of 1996.

Double Stack Freight Gauge (1996)

By September 1997, the TS-1150 consultant provided an updated freight forecast undertaken by Northern Jiao Tung University of China This indicated a lower freight forecast and the reduced quantity could be handled using single stack freight trains, providing a capacity of 2.3 million TEUs per annum. This new finding was key to reducing the size of the vehicle kinematic gauge, adopting a standard 5.3m overhead line height, reducing tunnel sizes and lowering track form loads to the more typical 18.3T axle load.

The line was designed to allow freight to operate 24 hours a day, while the other services would operate between 5:3am to 1:30am. To meet this requirement, single line working would be adopted to provide the necessary access for maintenance operations. This required the provision of crossovers typically at 5km intervals including one in the centre of Tai Lam Tunnel, necessitating the provision of a large door across the crossing cavern to maintain ventilation and fire separation between the two tracks during normal operation.

A fire door for trains in the Tai Lam tunnel - Checkerboard Hill

Tai Lam Tunnel Crossover Door

A large depot was required for the stabling and maintenance of the rolling stock, and this was located in former farmland of the Kam Tin valley, adjacent to the new Route 3 road and toll plaza.

Operational Safety

KCRC understood the need to ensure safe and reliable operations for the new line. With an accident rate as low as 0.05 accidents per million passengers[9] West Rail would need to improve on this performance. A dual approach was adopted:

  • setting design standards to build in safe operations, and
  • using a risk-based approach to ensure that the overall level of risk posed to passengers, staff and the public was managed and reduced to a level as low as reasonably practicable.

The first part was the responsibility of TS-3000 to provide design standards for the works and common details to be used by all the designers. For the risk-based approach, a new standard was under preparation and published in 1999, EN50126 Railway applications – The specification and demonstration of Reliability, Availability, Maintainability and Safety. This provided a framework for undertaking a systems assurance programme for railways. Elements of the approach had been used on other railway projects but West Rail was the first to adopt a fully integrated programme.

This was important, following the technical problems experienced during the opening of Hong Kong International Airport in July 1998 and the subsequent inquiry, there was a recognition that a more structured approach was required. The Bechtel team included two engineers that were part of the drafting team for the new standard. Dr L K Siu, who would go on to join KCRC under the new KCRC System Safety Manager Bob Lupton was to lead the system assurance process.

The technical study team identified more than 1,000 potential hazards and defined specific requirements to be accounted for in the design of the railway. Among the hazards identified, fire, collision and derailment were the most common and the most severe categories of events. To prevent these incidents, special safety requirements were designed into the railway systems, and contractors were held accountable for compliance with these requirements.

For example, detailed emergency infrastructure and evacuation plans were developed for the Tai Lam Tunnel. A fundamental requirement was the ability to evacuate passengers on a fully loaded train to a place of safety within 20 minutes. Infrastructure, tunnel ventilation, telecommunication systems and other facilities relating to train operations had to be fully considered in terms of the role they would play in providing the safest railway operation possible. The result was to provide a linear evacuation walkway with cross passages at 60m intervals. This would allow passengers evacuating a full 12-car train of nearly 4,000 passengers to exit the vehicle and cross into the adjacent tunnel where the tunnel ventilation systems would provide fresh air and a place of temporary safety.


The approach to funding the railway, as they say was problematic, with property development having been identified as an important factor underlining the operational viability of the line. It was envisaged that this would entail the construction of perhaps 44,000 homes over a seven-year period in proximity to or above West Rail, followed by similar property development along other new railway lines. Apart from property sales providing revenue to fund the capital expenditure on the railway, residents in these new homes were expected to be an important source of patronage for the new railway. The number of new homes would also be a significant contribution to Government’s long-term housing strategy that was in force at that time. This approach however required the KCRC to borrow money on the future value of the residential accommodation.

This approach was about to hit a wall as in the autumn of 1997, the Asian financial crisis that starting in Thailand in July, hit home. In October 1997, the dollar peg came under speculative pressure requiring the monetary authority to spend more than $1 billion and the Hang Seng Index dropped 23% between the 20th and 23rd October. To complicate matters, the new Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa announced plans to build 85,000 flats a year. Within 12 months, private house prices had dropped by 40% and up to 65% by late 2003[10]. Borrowing money for property was not an attractive option, and so the funding of the project would need a government cash injection. Or as the KCRC chairman, Mr K.Y. Yeung noted, “I felt that the bubble would burst one day. So I told the government ‘Give me $29 billion and we’ll build the project and make it work for you’. You can have all the property development profits. And we shook hands on that.”[11]

On the 20th January 1998, the Executive Council approved a financial package for the railway including the provision of $29 billion of public funding[12] based on a cost estimate of:

Cost Jan 1998 Dec 1996
Capital $51.0 billion $45.9 billion
Land Resumption $7.9 billion $3.5 billion
Financing $5.1 billion $3.7 billion
Total $64.0 billion $53.1 billion

The source of the funds was

  • Government injection $29.0 billion
  • KCRC funding $10.1 billion
  • Commercial borrowing $24.9 billion

In June 1997, the revised Railway Ordinance was enacted allowing the KCRC to commence the construction phase of the works. Now the team had to make it happen.



  1. https://www.legco.gov.hk/yr95-96/english/panels/tp/wcr/minutes/wc210696.htm
  2. Ex-transport chief takes help at KCRC, SCMP, 12 Dec 1996
  3. Beijing back rail projects, SCMP, 11 Oct 1996
  4. US firm stands by West Rail forecasts, SCMP, 1 Nov 1996
  5. Cargo line delay cuts $6 billion off link cost, SCMP, 12 Dec 1996
  6. Submission from the KCRC, Minutes of meeting of the Bills Committee on Railways Bill, 1997.01.24.; Minutes of meeting of the Bills Committee on Railways Bill, CB(1) 768/96-97 P-2
  7. https://dataportal.orr.gov.uk/statistics/usage/freight-rail-usage-and-performance/
  8. KCRC, Retendering Of Core Consultancies, CB(1)186/96-97, 23 Oct 1996
  9. West Rail: A Project Profile, Danal A. Blessis, Journal of Geospatial Engineering, Vol. 2, No.1, pp.53-61.
  10. West Rail: A Project Profile, Danal A. Blessis, Journal of Geospatial Engineering, Vol. 2, No.1, pp.53-61.
  11. The Impact of Supply of Subsidized Sale Flats on Private Housing Prices in Hong Kong, Eddie Chi-man Hui and Joe Tak-yun Wong, Journal of Real Estate Literature, Vol. 15, No. 2 (2007)
  12. West Rail, KCRC, 2003
  13. Cost of Western Corridor rail link soars 20%, SCMP, 21 Jan 1998

This article was first posted on 5th August 2023.

Related Indhhk articles:

  1. West Rail – Part 1 In the Beginning
  2. West Rail – Part 2 Detailed Feasibility Study


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