THIS MONTH will see the formal start of work on the first phase of Hong Kong’s ambitious WestRail link between Kowloon and Tuen Mun, following the final approval of the project by the region’s government on September 15. Transport Secretary Nicholas Ng said the project would generate 13000 jobs and kick-start development in the Northwest New Territories, with unemployment in Hong Kong currently at the highest level for 15 years.

Development of the HK$64bn project has taken four years, which Ng described as ’a long and arduous process’. With the current economic downturn in the region, the financing package for the 30·5 km electrified railway faces a delicate balance between depressed property values and higher interest rates on borrowings. The government is contributing an initial injection of HK$29bn, and Kowloon-Canton Railway Corp will provide equity of HK$10bn. The remaining funding will be raised from the commercial markets.

KCRC has already started prequalifying bidders for the main civil engineering contracts. The aim is to issue formal tender invitations as soon as approval is received and award the contracts by the middle of next year (RG 8.98 p503). First to get under way will be the two main tunnels, where preferred bidders have been lined up for integrated design-and-build contracts. The 5 km Lam Tin tunnel north of Tsuen Wan is expected to see the first digging begin before the end of the year. o