Only one non-stop train to Guangzhou will be scheduled for the upcoming Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link. This is despite the fact that the government’s selling point of the service was fast trains to the Southern Chinese city – according to a Ming Pao report.

Since 2009, when the government applied for funding from the Legislative Council, it has claimed that the journey time between Hong Kong and Guangzhou will be 48 minutes, compared with the existing train service, which takes around 100 minutes. The government had clarified that this only applied to non-stop trains.

The Chinese daily acquired a 2009 planning document made by the MTR Corporation, which attached a document showing suggested timetable of the rail service created by the China Railway Siyuan Survey and Design Group Co., Ltd. The Chinese document laid out plans for 96 percent of the daily train journeys from West Kowloon to stop at other stations before arriving in Guangzhou.

Potential Express Rail Link Train.
Potential Express Rail Link Train. Photo: CSR Corporation.

The 2009 document only mentioned six stations – West Kowloon, Futian, New Shenzhen (currently named Shenzhen North), Humen, Qingshen and New Guangzhou (currently named Guangzhou South). It did not include the new Guangmingcheng station between New Shenzhen and Humen, which has been open since 2011.

Of the 190 daily train journeys from West Kowloon, there were only seven non-stop trains to New Shenzhen and one to New Guangzhou. Train journeys to Guangzhou which will stop at two stations or more would take over 50 minutes.

The MTRC document mentioned that the service could satisfy demands up to 2031, but it did not say if the timetable must be adopted or could only be taken as a reference.

futian station
The Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link. Photo: Wikicommons.

Differences in counting economic benefit

University of Hong Kong geography professor James Wang Jixian, who studies transport planning in China, told Ming Pao that the timetable was made according to data provided by an annual Planning Department report on northbound and southbound travellers, and that it has importance for reference. But he said that the actual timetable could be adjusted as developments in mainland economy may have affected flow in stations.

Wang said that the rate of return of the Express Rail Link may not be high if it consisted of mainly short haul and non-direct services. But he added that its economic benefits should include those brought by linking up with the Chinese rail network, and not just the benefit in saving time.

New People’s Party lawmaker Michael Tien Puk-sun, chairman of LegCo’s Panel on Transport, told Ming Pao that the arrangement was appropriate as most passengers’ destinations were Futian or Shenzhen North, and Guangzhou South was only an interchange station to other mainland cities, so if trains did not stop at other stations the service would not be sustainable.

Democratic Party lawmaker Wu Chi-wai, also a member of the Panel on Transport, accused the government of misleading the public by not stating the number of direct trains in the past. He said that if there were only one direct train to Guangzhou per day, it could be replaced by a Regional Express Line, a line proposed in the past costing only HK$20 billion.

Kris Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist with an interest in local politics. His work has been featured in Washington Post, Public Radio International, Hong Kong Economic Times and others. He has a BSSc in Sociology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Kris is HKFP's Editorial Director.