The chief of the MTR Corporation, which runs the upcoming Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link, has defended its HK$80 million monthly operating costs.

In a media interview last week, Frederick Ma revealed how much the controversial project will cost to run once it begins operations in the third quarter of next year. The sum represents a 15.4 per cent increase from the previous estimate of HK$69.33 million in 2015 – higher than the rate of inflation during the period.

At a luncheon on Monday, Ma refused to explain the increase when asked about how the new estimate was made.

Frederick Ma Si-hang
Frederick Ma Si-hang. File

“I don’t want to reveal the details, but it is unnecessary to argue about the number – so-called ‘higher than inflation’ – because it is meaningless,” he said.

Ma also denied that the HK$80 million monthly cost was an exaggerated amount, set in order to fight for better conditions when the MTRC negotiates with the government.

He said that the new cost is an estimate, and that the firm would not rule out changes to cut the cost, if the rail project fails to begin operations on time.

One station, two systems

Last month, the government announced a controversial joint checkpoint arrangement for the HK$84.4 billion rail project, which involves “leasing” land to the mainland and effectively giving up Hong Kong jurisdiction across a quarter of the West Kowloon terminus.

It defended the arrangement by saying it will be in compliance with the Basic Law – Hong Kong’s de facto constitution which stipulates mainland laws cannot be implemented in the city – and it is a necessary tool to maintain the rail’s speed effectively.

See also: Explainer: The controversial joint checkpoint arrangement for Hong Kong’s Express Rail Link

Ma said if the Express Rail Link cannot operate if the joint checkpoint arrangement is not passed by the Legislative Council, and that – if the rail system cannot operate – it would be a “waste of money.”

“If everything is ready, but trains cannot operate, I can only say we will still have to pay for a lot of costs,” he said.

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.