Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Going Nowhere Slowly - and paying for it

"Does anyone care?" might be a more appropriate question than the one posed by the Pro-China Morning Post.  The Hong Kong people never asked to have their hard-earned money spent on this ruinously expensive project, and are hardly likely to be bothered by the prospect of it being delayed by a couple of years.  Like our other great white elephant infrastructure projects - the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge and the proposed third airport runway - the rail link reflects the hubris of the local and mainland governments rather than the real needs of Hong Kong.

What we should be worried about is the high probability that the delay will lead to yet more of our money being demanded to build this line from nowhere to nowhere - poorly connected at both ends.  And what we should perhaps be investigating is why the delay appears to have come as a sudden surprise to our government - adding Secretary for Transport and Housing Anthony Cheung to the long list of government ministers who should be kicked out, which already includes those responsible for Justice, Finance, Constitutional Affairs, Development, Education, and Commerce and Economic Development.  (Come to think of it, Hong Kong's housing situation probably justified his removal much earlier, but that's by the by.)

No big project suddenly slips its timetable by two years - there is always a series of small delays acting as warning signs which gradually accumulate.  If the government did not spot these signs, then it was not monitoring the project adequately.  Expect the usual response - a round of hand-wringing, at the end of which nobody will be held responsible.
While we're on the subject of railways, whatever happened to the second steam locomotive of the pair brought back to Hong Kong from the Philippines some years ago?  One of the pair, which were once used on a long-defunct narrow-gauge line from Fanling to Shataukok, quite properly sits in the Hong Kong Railway Museum in Taipo (see picture above, from Wikipedia).  The other appeared to have vanished - rusting away, rumour had it, in the MTR depot at Fo Tan.  Since the government acquired it with public money, shouldn't it be on display somewhere where the Hong Kong public can enjoy it?

Well, apparently our lords and masters decided otherwise; according to the fascinating Industrial History of Hong Kong website, which has a picture of the line in operation (above), it was intended to restore the second loco to working order, but "after languishing at Fo Tan for several years it was donated to a narrow gauge railway in Wales catering for tourists" - apparently the Vale of Rheidol Railway, since a photo shows it at Aberystwyth (in terrible condition, one might add - see below). Did the Hong Kong government ever ask the Hong Kong public whether they wanted to keep it?  Just another example of our money being splashed around without consultation.

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