Getting that ‘railroaded’ feeling again

The cost of Hong Kong’s section of the planned high-speed rail link to Guangzhou, according to Lingnan University economics professor Ho Lok-sang quoted in the South China Morning Post:

  • Is equivalent to more than a quarter of the government’s HK$244 billion expenditure for 2009-10;
  • Would pay for almost six of the HK$11 billion relief packages announced by Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen in last year’s policy address;
  • Would pay for the estimated HK$20 billion construction and operating costs of more than three West Kowloon Cultural Districts;
  • Is HK$15.2 billion more than the HK$50 billion committed to medical financing;
  • Would eat up two years of the estimated HK$30 billion revenue from a 5 per cent goods and services tax – proposed in July 2006 but dropped in the face of public opposition; and
  • Is equivalent to almost 15 per cent of the city’s fiscal reserves of HK$459 billion.

(Which raises the question of why the fiscal reserves are so enormous.)

A rough back-of-the-envelope calculation suggests the money could also save 20,000 of the Big Lychee’s kids from lives of abject misery as real estate agents by rescuing them from the local schools and sending them all to Eton for five years (with very generous living allowances).

Of course, if this space-age rail service charged realistic fares, the taxpayer wouldn’t have to worry about footing the bill.  But apparently the 540,000 people who on current travel patterns (says the SCMP) will use it aren’t keen on a HK$2,000 one-way ticket to Guangzhou.

The paper also quotes Raymond So Wai-man, associate professor in Chinese University’s finance department:

“If we don’t build it, we will be marginalised,” he says. “There is only one reason to build the railway – it is to buy a hope, a chance that we will not be marginalised.”

RaymondSoSo is one of the little group of people who dominate appointments to the Government’s committees, councils and boards and routinely speaks up for official policy.  In this case, he now has to join officials, toadies and others spouting scaremongering piffle about being ‘isolated, marginalized, left out’ if our nearest link to the national high-speed rail network is a whole 16 miles away in Shenzhen, a 45-minute mass transit ride away.  Whatever the cost, they insist, the line absolutely, positively must extend right into our central urban area.

But if this is so, what calamities are going to befall Guangzhou?  After all, that wondrous national high-speed rail network will only get as far as Panyu – a town over 10 miles away from the city centre and… a 45-minute mass transit ride away.  Presumably both cities will rot into marginalized dust together.

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