The launch of the Hong Kong section of the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link will lift the development of Hong Kong in various areas and link up the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area, said Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, chief executive of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region.
She voiced her expectations about the 26-kilometer rail project, which connects Hong Kong to the country's 25,000-km high-speed rail network, in a recent media session at Hong Kong's government headquarters.
The significance of the high-speed rail takes many forms, since it brings greater convenience for travelers, Lam said. It also brings Hong Kong and the Chinese mainland closer and shortens the emotional distance between the people of both places.
Lam said there will be far more exchanges and cooperation in all respects with the launch of the high-speed train.
The rail link will benefit various sectors in Hong Kong, Lam said. For businesspeople, trips to the mainland will be much faster and more convenient. Those who have factories to manage or businesses to take care of will save a lot of time traveling between Hong Kong and their destinations, she added.
For tourists, the high-speed rail will largely improve the overall experience of their journeys, she said.
Moreover, the rail link offers Hong Kong's young people easier access to pursuing careers, studying and living on the mainland, Lam said.
Direct trains will go from the international financial center to 44 mainland cities at speeds up to 310 km/h. Thirty-four of those cities are less than five hours away, including provincial capitals such as Wuhan, Changsha and Nanchang, and famous tourism hubs like Xiamen, Guilin and Shantou.
More than 90 percent of direct economic benefits of the Hong Kong section of the railway will come from cost savings resulting from shorter commute times, according to the Transport and Housing Bureau of Hong Kong. The bureau estimated that during 50 years of operation, the Hong Kong section could save passengers around 39 million hours of travel time per year on average, a saving of around HK$88 billion ($11.3 billion).
Meanwhile, Lam said connectivity is the key to the prosperity of the Greater Bay Area, which aspires to become a world-class city cluster. The transportation infrastructure project will boost the connectivity of the entire Greater Bay Area, Lam added.
Last year, the total gross domestic product contributed by all 11 cities in the Greater Bay Area stood at 11.7 trillion yuan ($1.7 trillion). That means that 5 percent of the national population contributed more than 14 percent of the country's GDP in 2017.
Lam said the rail link will be a major boost for Hong Kong's future integration efforts.
In his report to the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China in October, General Secretary Xi Jinping, also China's president, voiced the central government's support for Hong Kong's integration with national development.
With a collective effect from a series of other cross-border infrastructure projects that are kicking in, including the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge, the third runway of Hong Kong International Airport and the Liantang/Heung Yuen Wai Boundary Control Point, Hong Kong will better connect with the Greater Bay Area and support the area's development by optimizing the flow of talent, goods and information, Lam said.
This marks the first time that a part of a rail line in China's high-speed rail system is operated under a concession approach, in which the Hong Kong SAR government owns related properties and Hong Kong's sole railway operator, Mass Transit Railway Corp, operates the rail service.
Cooperation among the Hong Kong SAR government, the MTR and China Railway Corp will not be a problem, since the Hong Kong government has inked two detailed cooperation arrangements with the other two parties, Lam said.
In the Hong Kong government-CRC document, the two sides detail the responsibilities and rights under all expected scenarios. It also guarantees an emergency communication mechanism to cope with any unexpected situations, Lam said.
The agreement with the MTR nailed down the financial and supervision arrangement so that the situation will be under control, communication will be seamless and financial responsibilities are clear, Lam said, adding that the public therefore should not worry about the rail operation.