The cross-harbor section of the long-overdue, scandal-plagued Sha Tin to Central link will open on May 15, transport authorities announced on Tuesday.
The full opening of Hong Kong’s most expensive rail project ever will see travel times between Hung Hom and Admiralty MTR stations cut from 19 to seven minutes.
“With the cross-harbor section in operation, residents can go to and fro between northeastern New Territories and Hong Kong Island without changing trains,” said Secretary for Transport and Housing Frank Chan.
The extended East Rail line will consist of 16 stations, including the new Exhibition Centre station – located near the commercial district in Wan Chai North – and new platforms at the expanded Hung Hom and Admiralty stations.
The extension connects commuters to the first section of the link, the Tuen Ma line, which fully opened in June last year.
Along with the opening of the extension, trains with 12 carriages will be fully phased out – due to space constraints on the tracks on Hong Kong Island – and replaced with new trains with nine carriages.
This has raised concerns among commuters regarding longer waiting times for the trains at East Rail line stations, which are often packed during peak hours.
Responding to reporters’ questions about such worries, MTR Corporation CEO Jacob Kam said: “We will carefully monitor passengers’ travel modes and habits, and adjust the train frequency accordingly to suit their needs.”
The cross-harbor section of the East Rail line was originally scheduled to be completed by 2020.
But the Sha Tin to Central link project – which now has a price tag of more than HK$90 billion (US$11.5 billion) – has been hit by a series of scandals, delays and cost overruns.
Media reports revealed in 2018 that contractors had shortened steel bars supporting the extension of Hung Hom station, prompting reviews that found evidence of substandard work.
Signalling glitches found last year also forced MTR to push back the opening date of the cross-harbor section of the rail link.
Meanwhile, Citybus and New World First Bus announced that bus 301 – which runs only during the morning peak hours on weekdays from Cross Harbour Tunnel Toll Plaza in Hung Hom to places like Wan Chai and Central – will stop service on the day of the opening of the East Rail line extension.
The bus operator added that there are multiple buses, including 104, that have overlapping routes with 301.