Transport Secretary Frank Chan has said that he believed “time will tell” when asked about low passenger numbers on the new high-speed rail service.

According to government figures, 37,820 people used the new Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link on its third day of service – less than half of the 80,100 passengers expected by the government.

Chan said residents may need some time to familiarise themselves with the new service.

Frank Chan. File Photo: HKFP/Catherine Lai.

He said the designed passenger flow of a large-scale infrastructure project was estimated for long-term arrangements.

“It may not be very appropriate to use [data] from the first few days to compare,” Chan said on Thursday. “When we build large-scale infrastructure projects, especially cross-border transport facilities, if they reached the designed flow on the first day, it would not be normal.”

“It takes time and a process, so I don’t want to make a judgment too early. I have a belief – time will tell.”

The first train of the Express Rail Link after arriving at Shenzhen. Photo: Jennifer Creery/HKFP.

Asked about long queues at the West Kowloon terminus for passengers to retrieve tickets bought from the mainland railway’s official website, Chan said Hong Kong had agreed with China Railway that there will be ten booths to retrieve the tickets – up from the current seven – and ticketing machines will be installed.

Democratic Party lawmaker Lam Cheuk-ting, deputy chair of the legislature’s Panel on Transport, said new infrastructure projects usually see a high passenger flow on the first day, and then it would fall to a normal figure.

Lam Cheuk-ting. Photo: LegCo.

But the number of passengers on the first day was 75,517 – lower than the expected average, and dropped significantly on the second and third day, showing that the government has been exaggerating the number of expected passengers, Lam said.

Lam said that if the number of passengers remained low for a long time, the MTR Corporation might not be able to break even and would have to rely on public funds to keep operating.

Kris Cheng

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.