HONG KONG rail operator Kowloon Canton Railway Corporation (KCRC) is expected to scrap plans to build a 700m viaduct across a sensitive wetland area after losing a court battle with the government's environmental protection department.
Instead it is to appoint consultants to prepare plans for an $1.2bn tunnel.
In July KCRC lost a court appeal against a decision by the Environmental Protection Department (EPD). It had refused to approve an environmental permit allowing construction of the 7.3km railway.
The EPD's move derailed plans by KCRC to invite and award construction contracts.
KCRC had claimed a viaduct linking Sheung Shui and a boundary crossing between Hong Kong and mainland China at Lok Ma Chau was the most cost effective solution. Contracts for the detailed design and construction supervision of the scheme had already been awarded to Mott Connell for a new Lok Ma Chau station, and to Binnie Black & Veatch for the viaduct and a replacement Sheung Shui station.
But the project outraged environmentalists who said construction of the viaduct through the Long Valley - wildlife-rich marshland inhabited by several species of endangered birds - would devastate the area.
KCRC is now evaluating alternatives. Constructing a tunnel under the Long Valley would add an estimated $183M to the original $1bn project budget.
KCRC chairman and chief executive Yeung Kai-yin said he was confident a second rail route to the Hong Kongmainland China boundary would be built.
He said: 'We will study the results of the appeal carefully and announce our decision later.'
KCRC confirmed: 'We are determined to build a second railway crossing to the mainland to relieve congestion at the existing Lo Wu station on the border with mainland China. We are now holding discussions with the Transport Bureau on the best way to take the project forward, with regard to the comments made by the appeal board.'
The appeal board's decision means construction of a second link has been delayed by at least two years.