Hong Kong’s government is locked in a dispute with the MTR Corporation over which side will foot the bill for the massively over-budget high-speed rail project.

Michael Tien Puk-sun, chair of the Legislative Council Panel on Transport, commented on RTHK today that the government might consider taking legal action over the spiralling costs.

Michael Tien Puk-sun
Michael Tien Puk-sun on RTHK. Photo: Now TV.

Tien said that according to a legal advisor for the government, “if it can be proved that the MTR Corporation has severely mishandled [the construction of the high-speed rail], [the government] could sue.” Tien said the court could then decide which side was responsible for various aspects surrounding the cost hike.

Tien said: “This is the best prospect for both sides to step back [and resolve the conflict].” He also voiced concerns that construction might be ended prematurely due to budget, building and legal issues.

Following the radio show, Tien told the press that he believed any amount above HK$80 billion should be paid by the MTR Corporation.

Albert Lai Kwong-tak
Albert Lai Kwong-tak. Photo: Wikimedia.

In an op-ed in MingPao, Albert Lai Kwong-tak, chairperson of the Professional Commons, said the government should scrap the project altogether, and use the current excavated space for commercial and civilian uses.

Lai said the current high-speed rail project had consumed HK$45 billion and would require at least another HK$45 billion.

He proposed that the government should use an estimated HK$15 billion in order to wrap up the current construction. After that, half of the total excavated underground space of 380,000 square meters – equivalent to 38 regulation sized football fields – could be used for commercial purposes. The other half could be used for innovation and technology or agriculture-related uses, such as experimenting with indoor hydroponics, vertical farming or energy generation using biomass, he said.

Earlier comments by Tien suggested that the cost of the Hong Kong section of the High Speed Rail link might reach HK$90 billion. The original estimated cost was HK$65 billion in 2010.  The rail line’s opening date has been pushed back from 2015 to 2017.

Legal issues of placing immigration and customs facilities for both mainland China and Hong Kong at the Hong Kong end of the station have yet to be resolved. Some have voiced concern that an arrangement to allow mainland laws to be enforced in Hong Kong would violate Article 22 of the Basic Law.

Article 22 of the Basic Law stipulates that: “No department of the Central People’s Government and no province, autonomous region, or municipality directly under the Central Government may interfere in the affairs which the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region administers on its own in accordance with this Law.”

Arthur Lo is an undergraduate student currently on a gap year. During Hong Kong's Umbrella Movement protests, he worked as a fixer, translator and producer for foreign media outlets such as Al-Jazeera.