Hong Kong’s government has announced that the territory’s section of the high-speed rail line to Guangzhou will be further delayed, and that the total cost of the project has once again exceeded previous estimates.

The latest estimate puts the opening date of the cross-border link, which was scheduled to open this year, in the third quarter of 2018. The total construction cost has also risen to HK$85.3 billion, which is 19 percent greater than the last estimate of HK$71.5 billion in 2014 and 31 percent more than the original estimate of HK$65 billion in 2010.

Anthony Cheung Bing-leung
Secretary of Housing and Transport Anthony Cheung Bing-leung. Photo: Now TV.

At a press conference on Tuesday, Secretary for Transport and Housing Anthony Cheung Bing-leung announced the results of MTR Corporation’s latest assessment report.

Cheung said that MTR Corporation “has the greatest responsibility and obligation in overseeing this project.”

“The government will not accept continual cost overruns and let taxpayers pay off the corporation’s [poor] performance in project management. A means must be found to cap the final cost of the project.”

The Highways Department plans to invite consultants to assist in reviewing the report, until which time Cheung said the government will reserve judgement.

According to MTR’s 2014 annual report announced in March, if the MTR Corporation violates the terms and agreements of the project, the company may have to pay a fine of up to HK$4,590 million, which is the project management fee entrusted by the government..

However, Albert Lai Kwong-tak of the Professional Commons told RTHK that paying HK$4,590 million to the government would be too little to meet public demands.

Lai said that the government “has a responsibility to use all available methods to hold MTR accountable, including legal channels.” Lai said that if the government shies away from pursuing legal measures against MTR, it will set a bad precedent for future infrastructure projects, as taxpayers will have to cover the costs instead.

Michael Tien, chair of the Legislative Council Panel on Transport, recently suggested that the government may consider legal action to hold the company responsible. Tien also suggested that the total cost of the project may reach as high as HK$90 billion.

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.