HK rejoices at giant hole delay

Hong Kong bursts into a frenzy of applause, dance and all-purpose sing-along to celebrate the latest ‘through-train’ news: the Giant Hole to Shenzhen – the planet’s most expensive rail line in per-kilometre terms – is to be delayed.

The official explanation is that the MTR’s Mega Round Thing that drills tunnels through rock suffered serious damage from flooding during last month’s extreme rainstorm. The experts are also muttering something about ‘complicated geological features’ posing ‘unforeseeable challenges’. Malevolent, low-life cynics wonder if the downpour is being used as an excuse for technical screw-ups arising from the Pointless Infrastructure Lobby’s obsessive-compulsive haste when ramming the project through in 2009-10.

As with the Huge Bridge to Zhuhai, no-one really knows what the HK$67 billion Express Rail Link is for. We were told that it would make life easier and better by replacing the current over-ground train to central Guangzhou with an underground one to a distant suburb no-one wants to go to. When this inexplicably failed to generate widespread enthusiasm, we were offered a vision of transferring onto China’s nationwide high-speed rail network (yes – the one with the terrible crash where they tried burying the wreckage before all the bodies had been found). What used to be a long, drawn-out two-hour flight to Shanghai would miraculously become a zippy, blink-and-you-miss-it 10-hour train ride! Still, amazingly, the public failed to be impressed.

The inescapable conclusion: the thing was a scam to transfer a vast quantity of public wealth into the pockets of tycoon-linked construction interests and to expand bureaucrats’ empires. Perceptive observers also couldn’t help noticing that the Hong Kong end of the Giant Hole was in West Kowloon, a neighbourhood of which we know little and care even less. The ‘interchange’ arrangements (calculated by Professional Commons) suggested lousy connectivity – as in it’s-not-for-you – with existing rail routes:

However, the terminus is right next to a big Sun Hung Kai Property development, including Elements shopping mall.

Would someone fix things so the Hong Kong taxpayer spends an astronomical sum (it works out at over US$4,700 per inch) just to deliver Mainlanders to a tacky retail hub full of the usual overpriced garbage, merely to enrich SHKP’s owners, the Kwok family? It sounds preposterous. For that money, you could build an Elements Mall in every village in Guangdong Province. Sounds ridiculous. All parties would benefit more – a genuine win-win – if you split the planned outlay and gave half to the Kwoks in cash as a gift and reserved the other half for the public purse. If something sounds that idiotically insane, Hong Kong logic tells us, it must be true!

The money has vanished down the hole in the ground, and we will never see it again. But we can at least rejoice at the thought that the parasites of the tourism-infrastructure complex will have to sweat a bit, get by without a few million extra shoppers, and – only a matter of time – come begging for more public money.

This just in: the ‘complex geology’ was at the cross-border section beneath a protected wetland (don’t you hate it when that happens?), and a pesky golf-driving range got in the way, as did ‘busy traffic’ of all things, and – surprise out-of-the-blue shock – ‘many underground cables’. Plus, the dog ate the blueprints.

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