Hong Kong Approves China Express Rail Link in Contested Vote

Hong Kong approved funding needed for a high-speed rail link to China after a contested vote among lawmakers, giving the green light for MTR Corp. to resume construction on the HK$84.4 billion ($11 billion) project.

Approval was granted after the acting chairman for the finance committee Chan Kam-lam called for a vote amid protests by some lawmakers. At the briefing to announce the decision, Chan was heckled by those who opposed the project.

MTR, three-quarters owned by the government, has been criticized for budget overruns and missed completion targets on the project to connect Hong Kong to Shenzhen and Guangzhou in southern China. Some lawmakers have called for the link to be scrapped amid repeated delays and escalating costs that swelled to HK$84.4 billion from an earlier estimated HK$65 billion.

“As of today, over 77% of the project has been completed,” MTR Chief Executive Officer Lincoln Leong told reporters Friday at a briefing. “ We are confident about the current cost valuation and timetable of the project to be met.”

Segments of the Hong Kong population have protested over the high costs, pollution, possible border control complications, and their unhappiness with the government’s insistence on pushing through the project. Opposition to the link has been brewing since 2009 and has gained in intensity with the emergence of the “localist” movement, which opposes what it sees as encroachment on the local way of life by the Chinese governing and business elites.

The project could cost Hong Kong HK$75.6 billion if it was abandoned completely, the city’s government said in December.

Forecasts for the project’s economic return were cut to 4 percent, from 6 percent estimated in 2009, the city’s Transport and Housing Bureau told lawmakers in a document in December. The government cited higher construction costs and slower economic and population growth in the Pearl River Delta region as reasons for the decline.

— With assistance by Hannah Yuan, and Jeanny Yu

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