A RAFT of railway expansion projects in Hong Kong which have been under discussion for several years looks set to move ahead rapidly in the next few years, following the consummation of the merger between the Special Administrative Region's two railways.

December 2 is the date selected by the government for the disappearance of Kowloon-Canton Railway Corp, which will be merged into its younger partner MTR Corp. Although the merged company will get a new name in Chinese, the MTR branding will remain for international purposes.

After almost four years of negotiations, MTR's private shareholders voted to approve the deal on October 9. Of the 300 million shares held by private shareholders, 82·3% backed the deal, according to an MTR statement. Two days later KCRC confirmed that it had received the necessary consents from its bondholders, and on October 18 the government published secondary legislation naming the day.

After many years of expansion, culminating with the Airport Railway, West Rail and the Lok Ma Chau branch opened in July (RG 9.07 p528), the only line currently under construction is the KCR extension from Tsim Cha Tsui East to Kowloon station; this is part of the long-planned connection between East Rail and West Rail. But in a speech made on October 10, SAR Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen said HK$250bn would be spent in the next decade 'pushing forward' 10 major infrastructure projects, of which at least four will be railway schemes.

Work is expected to get underway in 2009 on the Express Rail Link between Kowloon and Guangzhou, subject to an agreement with the mainland authorities on customs and immigration procedures. This will cut the journey time between the two cities from 2 h to just 48 min.

Tsang promised that work will start in 2010 on the ShaTin – Central Line serving the northeast New Territories, for which proposals have already been submitted by KCRC. This will see the Ma On Shan line extended south through Diamond Hill and Kai Tak to Hung Hom, although the final cross-harbour section to Central is still under review.

According to Tsang, work will start 'no later than 2015' on the first 7 km of the South Island Line linking Admiralty with Aberdeen at an estimated cost of HK$7bn. In the longer term this would be extended around the western side of Hong Kong Island to meet the 3 km, HK$8·9bn West Island extension of MTR's Island Line at Kennedy Town, due to open in 2014.

MTR Chief Executive Chow Chung-kong, who has been appointed to lead the merged organisation, said these three schemes would add 75 route-km to the Hong Kong rail network between 2009 and 2018. Other projects under consideration include a direct Western line from Hong Kong International Airport to Shenzhen Airport via Tuen Mun.