ollowing years of controversy and construction delays, Hong Kong’s West Kowloon Station, the former British colony’s first high speed rail link to the Chinese mainland, opened for business on Sunday, just in time for the Mid-Autumn Festival and the Golden Week holiday.
Poised to accommodate an estimated 80,000 daily passengers, the Express Rail Link, which took almost $11 billion and more than 8 years to complete, connects Hong Kong to 44 mainland destinations, including Shenzhen (an advertised travel time of 19 minutes), Guangzhou (47 minutes), Shanghai (8 hours 17 minutes), and Beijing (8 hours 56 minutes).
Hong Kong officials claim that expedited transit will facilitate more robust economic ties with the mainland and bolster tourism. The Express Rail Link is one of several recent large-scale infrastructural projects meant to promote more convenient travel in the Pearl River Delta region. The world’s longest sea bridge, connecting Hong Kong to the mainland city of Zhuhai and the gambling hub of Macau, is slated to open later this year.
South China Morning Post journalists conducted a speed test Sunday of various modes of transit from their Hong Kong office to Guangzhou’s TaiKoo Hui shopping megaplex. The new rail line outpaced flying, the next-fastest option, by fifteen minutes:
While the efficiency of transit between Hong Kong and the mainland enabled by the Express Rail Line is unprecedented, so too is the penetration it grants mainland immigration officials into Hong Kong.
Under the new station’s “joint checkpoint” framework, passengers will have their travel documents reviewed by both Hong Kong and Chinese immigration officers at the West Kowloon terminus, rather than passing through border control upon arrival at their mainland destination. Part of West Kowloon Station will operate under mainland jurisdiction, marking the first time in the territory’s history that Chinese law will be enforced on Hong Kong soil, according to CNN.
As Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam trumpeted the economic stimulus the new rail line promises to bring to the region at an opening ceremony on Saturday, a chorus of sharp criticism from pro-democracy advocates and other skeptics sounded off in response.
“It’s like a Trojan horse,” said Claudia Mo, a pro-democracy legislator representing West Kowloon, “infiltrating the city through the belly of the railway system.”
The Hong Kong Bar Association called it the “most retrograde step to date in the implementation of the Basic Law,” the mini-constitution enabling the territory to operate under a legal framework distinct from the mainland.
Hong Kong Free Pressreported pro-democracy protesters before the opening ceremony chanting, “Oppose the Express Rail Link! Shameful betrayal of Hong Kong!”
With some long-haul fares only negligibly cheaper than flying, and the new station coming at considerable cost to the Hong Kong taxpayer, residents have also questioned the necessity of the rail link.