Road dominates freight surface transport within Hong Kong and into the neighbouring regions, but railway freight from China will become increasingly important, says Blake.
How to carry this rail freight through the SAR has been the subject of several studies in recent years, and a new strategy was approved by KCRC's board in November 1998. Consultant MVA has been working with KCRC on transport planning, patronage forecasts and fare analysis. The freight plans are being fed into the government's new rail development strategy.
All KCRC's freight currently arrives at East Rail's southern terminus at Hung Hom. From there it can be taken by road, or loaded into midstream vessels.
The new strategy includes development of a dedicated freight tunnel, running 10km from Tai Wai on the East Rail line to a new freight terminal a short distance by road from the port. The other strand to the strategy is a joint venture with the Chinese operators for a distribution centre at Pinghu.
Pinghu is already the site of the biggest rail marshalling yard in southern China. Lines stretch to three ports - Hong Kong to the south, Yantian to the east and the smaller Shekou. 'Pinghu is seen as key to unlocking the potential of the ports,' says Blake. Freight from the north could be repacked at Pinghu into standard containers, and sent down to any of the ports, via East Rail in the case of Hong Kong.
These new freight plans are in response to a change from the original plans for West Rail. The line was first conceived as two phases: the line now being built, and a spur heading further north across the boundary. As well as providing cross boundary and intercity links, this was seen as playing an important freight role. But as well as being expensive and environmentally difficult to build, freight volume predictions were downscaled.
'China is building railways but it will be some time before the manufacturing facilities build up and send freight through the railway system,' says Blake.
East Rail does have capacity to run more freight. 'We are also going to look at automatic train operation, which would increase the line capacity by 15% to 20%,' says Blake.
Adding a third track with passing loops technically has no problems and is in the longer term planning strategy. But ultimately, adds Blake, both East and the current phase of West Rail may carry freight, and West Rail's design will take this into account.