Chief Executive Carrie Lam said she was not worried about the financial situation of the newly opened high-speed train, despite fewer passengers using it than initially expected.

Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, Lam said that the projection of 80,000 daily passengers for the Express Rail Link was not a “target” but a “best estimate.”

Carrie Lam. File photo: LegCo.

“It is a best estimate at the time based on various factors, like the train frequency, the assessment of people’s travelling arrangements and so on,” she said.

The Legislative Council was first told that the railway would serve 110,000 daily passengers, but the daily average was revised to 80,000 earlier this year – a projection then described as “conservative” by transport chief Frank Chan.

Since the railway began operations on September 23, there has been no day on record where the passenger count exceeded 80,000. The number of travellers during the National Day holiday on Monday reached a record 78,244, according to numbers released by the Immigration Department.

Lam said people needed time to get used to the Express Rail Link as it was a new piece of cross-boundary infrastructure, and added that she was optimistic about its prospects.

“I feel this high-speed train, this West Kowloon terminus, has huge prospects to attract more people to use it because we have yet to open this wonderful cultural facility called the West Kowloon Cultural District,” she said. “With its various museums and cultural venues, it is bound to be more attractive in the future.”

She added that there were “pretty conservative estimates” of passenger trips in the arrangement signed between the MTRC and the government, so it was unlikely that the government would need to subsidise the train’s operation.

Frederick Ma (left) and Lincoln Leong. Photo: Kris Cheng/HKFP.

Lam’s comments were echoed by MTRC Chairman Frederick Ma, who said on Tuesday that more time was needed to provide an accurate picture of passenger levels.

“At the beginning, people don’t know how convenient the Express Rail Link is… after seven years, ten years, people will say that the [West Kowloon] station is too small,” Ma said.

The lower-than-expected passenger numbers have drawn criticism from lawmakers, including Lam Cheuk-ting from the Democratic Party, who expressed concerns that the MTRC might not be able to break even if the situation persisted.

Holmes Chan

Holmes Chan is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press. He covers local news with a focus on law, politics, and social movements. He studied law and literature at the University of Hong Kong.