The History and Promising Future of the MTRs Pok Fu Lam Line
Hong Kong/ Venture/ Investments

The History and Promising Future of the MTR’s Pok Fu Lam Line

SIL 1 Photo by AECOM Website

Since its opening in October of 1971, Hong Kong’s MTR subway system has served the city in business, tourism, and pleasure, with a 99.9% on-time rate and a daily ridership nearing five million, becoming an ever-dependence on Hong Kongers’ lives.

Acting as a pivotal transport corridor for travelers on Hong Kong Island and serving the urbanized villages and towns across Kowloon and New Territories, the system has reached every one of Hong Kong’s 18 Districts, connecting people to business.

With the MTR Corporation’s’ (MTRC) most significant extension of its existing system in recent years, the launch of the South Island Line on Dec. 28, 2016, connecting Admiralty to South Horizons, the rail company has worked in cooperation with the government to breach new areas for development.

A Race Down South

Fourteen years before the eventful Christmas opening of the South Island Line, which saw 92,000 passenger journeys in its first 11 hours of operation, the MTRC had been in conversation with government officials to propose extensions to the MTR system to the south of Hong Kong Island, dominated by bus services that require toll fees and congested easily.

In May of 2002, the MTRC submitted its first out of five proposals for the South Island line and a Pok Fu Lam section, an extension intended to promote tourism in Aberdeen and bring business to Cyberport.

2005 MTR South Island Line (west) Plan
Photo by Wikipedia

Three years later in February 2005, a scheme was put in place that mirrors today’s and future MTR map, with extensions of the Island Line and routes for both east and west sections of the South Island Line.

After conversation with the government and the city’s transportation monopoly, on Dec. 18, 2007, the Executive Council of Hong Kong approved plans for construction of the east section of the South Island Line – however, plans were not yet materialized for a Pok Fu Lam section to pass the island’s west coast.

The Defining 2014 Report

A white paper produced by the Transport and House Bureau of Hong Kong in September 2014, titled “Railway Development Strategy 2014,”, presented a plan to "provid[e] a framework for planning the future expansion of Hong Kong’s railway network up to 2031.”

The paper detailed the MTRC’s future strategy for implementation of further subway lines along demanded routes and future projects in research stages, including the North Island Line, connecting Hong Kong and North Point station, and the South Island Line (West).

Conceptual Scheme of the South Island Line (West)
Photo by Website/Transport and Housing Bureau

As proposed in 2002 and 2005, the route will serve the western coast of Hong Kong Island, connecting HKU and Wong Chuk Hang MTR stations. Over a 7.4-kilometre route, stops will be constructed at Queen Mary Hospital, Cyberport, Wah Fu, Tin Wan, and Aberdeen.

Stated within the paper, the project hopes to “serve a residential and working population of approximately 350,000 in the Southern District” and “stimulate new developments […] in the surrounding areas.” The need to address a growing transport demand in the Southern District is made clear by the predicted population growth of Pok Fu Lam to nearly 100,000 by 2031.

Equally, the Bureau hopes that the project would relieve pressure on the extensive road network in the Pok Fu Lam Road, specifically, Pok Fu Lam Road and Victoria Road, both vital arterial roads connecting Southern to the Central and Western District.

MTR Cyberport
Photo by Website/AECOM

A Window for the Future

The paper estimates a window from 2021 to 2026 for planning of the South Island Line (West) and preliminary costs for planning and construction at HK$25 billion in 2013.

In an annual report for 2020, , the MTRC outlined their concrete plans for the project: “We also submitted a project proposal for the South Island Line (West) in December 2020.”

The 2021-2026 planning timeframe, however, poses concern about the future of the project. The existing South Island Line was initially approved by the Executive Council of Hong Kong for permission to begin planning in 2007, and only by December 2016 began operations. A similar timeframe may bring the completion of the Pok Fu Lam section to 2030 at the very least.

New Extensions to MTR
Photo by Website/MTR Corporation

A Desperate Need?

The success of the MTRC does not come from the company's involvement in the transport market in Hong Kong, but rather its hand in residential and commercial properties across the city.

The government owns 76% of shares in the MTRC, selling available land to the company –- at a fraction of original cost – in investments that turn a wide profit once a new station opens.

This business model has reaped huge gains for the corporation, with their 2020 revenue of property business at HK$ 5.05 billion, as compared to revenue from transportation operations at HK$ 11.8 billion which saw a 40% decrease since 2019 as COVID-19 affected tourism numbers.

With the cash flow MTRC sees with its some 47 plus residential and commercial properties, new MTR extensions can’t be seen as just transportation links in the city, but new opportunities to grow revenue from land.

However, with limited available land and unstable hilly ground along Pok Fu Lam Road, where the west section of the South Island Line may be constructed, it remains to be seen whether the extension will turn a profit not just through Octopus fare.

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