Hong Kong on Saturday opened a new high-speed rail link to inland China that will vastly decrease travel times but also raises concerns about Beijing’s creeping influence over the semi-autonomous Chinese region.
The opening ceremony of the Hong Kong Section of the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link (XRL) was held Saturday at Hong Kong West Kowloon Station, one day ahead of the official operation of the first high-speed train from Hong Kong to the mainland.
Costing upward of USD 10 billion and taking more than eight years to build, the system aims to transport more than 80,000 passengers daily between the Asian financial center of 7 million people and the neighbouring manufacturing hub of Guangdong province.
The opening of the XRL marks Hong Kong’s official connection with the national high-speed railway network.
Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, Ma Xingrui, General Manager of China Railway Corporation Lu Dongfu and Chairman of the MTR Corporation Ma Si-hang delivered speeches at the ceremony.
Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said, “We will continue to improve on matters related to railway safety, operation and management, as well as passenger experience, such that the Hong Kong section of the express rail can become a bright light on the country’s business card.”
After the ceremony, Lam and Ma, along with the guests, toured the rail link’s West Kowloon terminus for about half an hour.
About 500 guests attended the morning ceremony, including mainland and Hong Kong officials, representatives from the MTR Corporation, and Legco and Executive Council members.
Saturday’s ceremony comes a decade after Hong Kong embarked on the HK$84.4 billion (US$10.76 billion) project, consisting of construction of the station and a 26km line through the city to the mainland’s rail network.
Since then, there have been protests against evictions of villagers, chaotic Legislative Council debates, building delays, and the hugely controversial decision to implement “co-location”, which lets mainland Chinese officers enforce national laws in part of the terminal.
The mega cross-boundary rail link officially opens to the public Sunday. The first train from Hong Kong to the mainland will set off on 7:00 am from the West Kowloon Station.
The opening of the Hong Kong section of the XRL, a 26km-long underground rail, means travelers can make the trip between the heart of Hong Kong and Shenzhen’s central business district in 14 minutes. Guangzhou is only about 50 minutes away.