Regina Ip points out the launch of this ingenious project is a special occasion which will boost people-to-people bonds between mainland residents and those in Hong Kong
Sept 22 will go down in the history of modern China as a milestone in the development of the nation’s high-speed rail system. A short link, the 26-kilometer-long Hong Kong track connecting the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region to the rest of China, was officially commissioned. Despite the short distance of the Hong Kong link, it is a unique nexus extending the high-speed rail system to the nation’s most international city, overcoming barriers to through traffic inherent in “one country, two systems”.
Occupying 11 hectares in West Kowloon’s prime business district, the West Kowloon Station is an engineering marvel in its own right. The high construction expenditure is due to no small extent to the fact that the entire Hong Kong link was built underground; as was the station, which is the largest underground railway station in the world. Nevertheless the station is covered by a large, over-arching dome fitted with over 4,000 glass panels of different sizes, making it the newest and one of the most captivating landmarks of Hong Kong.
The station has a total area of 430,000 square meters, including a Mainland Port Area of 100,000 square meters. The spacious entrance hall, similar to airport terminals, has plenty of customer-oriented food and beverage and retail outlets for commuters. Lactation rooms for traveling mothers and facilities for the handicapped, though not easily noticeable, have not been forgotten.
As one of the first passengers who boarded the Vibrant Express train to Guangzhou South on Sept 22, I noticed that the train reached a speed of about 200 km per hour while running on the Hong Kong link. In about 25 minutes, it got up to 311 km per hour. We reached Guangzhou South in 43 minutes, and I found seats in the second-class cabin sufficiently comfortable.
Unmistakably, the Express Rail Link will bring unprecedented travel convenience to Hong Kong residents and other short-haul commuters. In future, it would be more convenient for Hong Kong residents to have a meal or do business in Shenzhen or Guangzhou than doing so in Hong Kong, say by commuting from New Territories North to Causeway Bay. The physical distance between Hong Kong and the Pearl River Delta will be greatly shortened.
For long-haul passengers traveling, for example, to Beijing and Shanghai, the XRL would provide an invaluable alternative to air travel in the event of inclement weather necessitating flight delays.
The smooth operation of the XRL Hong Kong section has been made possible by the enactment of legislation in Hong Kong authorizing co-location of passenger clearance facilities in West Kowloon. With approval by the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, the Hong Kong legislature passed the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link (Co-location) Bill into law on June 14. This highly imaginative and ingenious arrangement, mirroring co-location arrangement already in existing in Shenzhen Bay, enables Hong Kong to overcome provisions in the Basic Law regarding Hong Kong’s separate travel and customs area status, and helps Hong Kong to reap the best of both worlds under “one country, two systems”.
The XRL is a transformative mode of travel. It will not only shorten the physical distance, but will also, in time, greatly enhance the connectivity between Hong Kong residents and their mainland compatriots. More frequent business and other ties will strengthen the people-to-people bonds between mainland residents and those in Hong Kong. “We are one nation” — the future is written on high-speed trains.
The author is Executive Council member and founder and chairperson of the New People’s Party.
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