A quarter of the Express Rail Link’s terminus has come under mainland jurisdiction after the controversial joint checkpoint law became effective on Tuesday at midnight. It comes as a string of previously-unmentioned issues were revealed, causing fresh concerns over the already contentious project.
In recent days, criticism arose over revelations that oversized baggage items may have to be shipped separately, and over who would bear the cost of packaged meals for mainland personnel. It was also revealed on Tuesday that the terminus contained a previously-unmentioned B5 level, and that mainland staff would be working overnight shifts at the station.
The mainland port area – some one million square feet – was rented to the mainland for HK$1,000 per year. Late Monday night, Secretary for Transport and Housing Frank Chan and Deputy Secretary General of the Guangdong Province government Lin Ji jointly hosted a short ceremony to mark the area’s commissioning.
The press was not invited to attend the ceremony. The government has not revealed how many mainland staff will be working in the area, but media reports have said 800 will be stationed.
At a regular press meeting on Tuesday, Chief Executive Carrie Lam denied it was a “ceremony,” despite the wording appearing in the government’s official press release.
“What has taken place at midnight at the West Kowloon terminus is a working level sort of a handover,” she said. “It was not a ceremony per se.”
She said a “simple and solemn” ceremony will be held on September 22, a day before trains start operating. Lam and Governor of Guangdong Ma Xingrui will attend. The chief executive also said media will be invited.
“Apparently and unfortunately, anything relating to the high-speed train normally is presented with some worries and anxieties, and I don’t want it to repeat itself between now and the opening of the high-speed train on September 23,” she said, adding that she has asked the Transport and Housing Bureau and the MTR Corporation to provide responses as promptly as possible to any queries.
Civic Party lawmaker Tanya Chan called it a “secretive” event, as neither the media nor lawmakers had advance knowledge of it.
She said on an RTHK radio programme that she would not attend the September 22 ceremony even if she was invited.
“The unlawful and unconstitutional joint checkpoint has been implemented forcefully – it has caused an irreparable damage to our legal system and rule of law. There is nothing to celebrate,” she said.
Lam confirmed a report that some mainland officers will work overnight shifts at the station – after the last train service at 11:30pm – despite the government previously saying that they will not stay overnight.
“From 11:30pm until the next morning, there is an overnight shift – they have to reorganise things for the operation of the rail the next day. We [the Hong Kong side] will have the same arrangement,” she said.
But she said the officers will have to buy train tickets for their trips to and from Shenzhen, and they cannot leave the mainland port area and cross to the Hong Kong side.
She said mainland authorities will pay for the officers’ meals, cleaning, rubbish collection, electricity and water in the mainland port area. “But we need to help them to arrange these things, it is as simple as that,” she said.
Meanwhile, news site HK01 reported that the West Kowloon terminus has a B5 floor, a floor below the existing B4 level which has not been revealed before.
Sources told the news site that only a minority of staff at the MTR Corporation – which runs the rail – knew of its existence. The floor has a narrow pathway which can allow two to three people to access platforms on the B4 floor above. It takes around two minutes to walk through the pathway, according to the report.
The MTRC told HKFP that the floor was for maintenance and emergency fire exits, and was not part of the mainland port area.
Lam said the existence of such pathways was common in large infrastructure projects. “If you stayed in a hotel, you know there is a ‘back of house.’ There is nothing mysterious about it,” she said.
Tanya Chan and Business and Professionals Alliance for Hong Kong party lawmaker Priscilla Leung – who also appeared on the radio programme – said they have never heard of the B5 level.