A comprehensive railway network running a total of 200 kilometres now covers the whole of Hong Kong, contributing to greater accessibility, convenience and economic efficiency for every citizen and tourist. However, as the local landscape continues to transform and the link between Hong Kong and the mainland strengthens, there is still scope for further expansion.
"Demographic distribution plus GDP activities have a direct impact on future rail line developments," says Wan Man-lung, principal government engineer, Railway Development Office (RDO), Highways Department. "Our closer relationship with the mainland also plays a significant part." This was reflected in the Chief Executive's policy address last year — out of the 10 major infrastructure projects, four are on railways, including two cross boundary rail lines.
Aside from the aforementioned projects, the RDO faces ongoing opportunities and challenges. "For instance, the prospect of building the West Island Line has created tremendous anticipation and debate. After a lengthy consultation period, construction is set to begin next year." Mr Wan notes.
Railway developments in Hong Kong require concerted efforts from various parties including government bureaux and departments, railway corporations, consultants and contractors. A project can involve more than 10,000 people at different stages such as planning, design, construction, testing and operation.
The roles of the RDO are to carry out railway planning and oversee the implementation of railway projects. Since the publication of the first Railway Development Strategy in 1994, a number of projects have been completed successfully. These included the Tseung Kwan O Line, West Rail Line, the Ma On Shan Line, the Tsim Sha Tsui Extension and the Sheung Shui to Lok Ma Chau Spur Line. Construction of the Kowloon Southern Link and the Tseung Kwan O South Station are also in good progress and due to complete in 2009. Meanwhile, under the framework of the Railway Development Strategy 2000, the government decided to press ahead with the implementation of yet more new rail projects, such as the West Island Line, the Shatin to Central Link, the Express Rail Link, and the South Island Line, and carry out planning on the Northern Link and the Rail Link between Hong Kong and Shenzhen Airports.
Hong Kong's dense population and its superior economic position are both reliant on transport efficiency if business is to take place without glitches. Admittedly, the rail network can heave at times but it always remains convenient, safe and reliable. "According to statistics, more than 90 per cent of Hong Kong people use public transportation daily, and within this group, more than 35 per cent use railway services," Mr Wan adds.
The railway network is key to the future developments of Hong Kong's transport system and the consequential economic growth. However, the decision to begin new projects is never merely financial. "Socioeconomic benefits remain a focal point in our future development plans," Mr Wan stresses. "We put everything into perspective. The real benefits should contribute to the everyday lives of the community."
At the Highways Department, a wealth of civil engineers works towards a range of existing and upcoming highway and railway projects, performing an array of duties in line with the department's project implementation schedule.
To facilitate optimal workforce efficiency and mobility, civil engineers are usually assigned different types of works at various government offices and departments by the Civil Engineering and Development Department. This also helps to broaden their knowledge and enrich their experience as a professional.
As such, they are equipped with diverse skills and industry knowledge and are capable of shifting swiftly between projects. Mr Wan explains, "After intensive on-the-job training, junior civil engineers can take care of tasks such as transport modelling, patronage and revenue forecasts, as well as financial and economic assessments. Understanding project priority and monitoring the cost-effectiveness of existing ventures require a great deal of general knowledge in addition to that of engineering plus considerable experience."
To expand the professional capacity of staff, the department encourages life-long learning and sponsors staff to take part in job-related training programmes and seminars. Overseas training and visits to mainland China are also part of the department's agenda. "So much knowledge exchange occurs outside the workplace," Mr Wan concludes.