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Meeting the challenges

It is two years since NCE/NCEI published the first Hong Kong West Rail supplement. Much has happened since the start of 1999, and much has been achieved on West Rail in terms of progress and meeting the significant challenges we have faced on the first of the Kowloon Canton Railway Corporation's (KCRC) major railway extensions.

West Rail is now 33% complete and, as the largest infrastructure project being carried out in Hong Kong, is setting many records. At 13.4km, the viaduct will be the longest continuous bridge structure in Hong Kong. The single bore, drill and blast Tai Lam Tunnel will be Hong Kong's longest transportation tunnel at 5.5km. And the Tsing Tsuen twin bore rock and soft tunnels are being driven using an earth pressure balanced tunnel boring machine for the first time in Hong Kong.

Progress on West Rail remains in line with the tight programme set three years ago. While civil engineering work will continue at peak level of construction throughout 2001, the current total work force of 10,500 professionals and site operatives will grow to around 13,000 as we enter the next phase of the project. Then the emphasis shifts to track laying and station fit-out.

Added to the list of engineering and construction challenges is the human dimension.

Some of West Rail's activities are being carried out in densely populated areas, and take place right next to residential dwellings or socially, culturally or environmentally sensitive areas. All construction activity must take full account of the potential impacts to the surrounding area, with effective, and at times innovative, mitigation measures being employed to ensure smooth progress of the works.

Just as the task is mammoth, so are the benefits. Of the nine West Rail stations, six will provide direct interchange with existing railways, helping to form an integrated network for Hong Kong. West Rail will also spearhead developments in new towns along its alignment, spurring an expected 70% population growth over the next 10 years.

Safety has been paramount on West Rail. It is a reflection of the considerable efforts of everyone concerned that we have achieved the lowest accident rate of any major project in Hong Kong with 33 reportable accidents per 1,000 workers last year. This compares dramatically with the Hong Kong construction industry average of 155 and with the UK figure of 26.

We have also been successful at controlling and managing change and keeping expenditure within the project budget. Apart from significant savings due to value engineering and highly competitive prices, robust cost and programme control and a proactive partnering approach to disputes resolution have already contributed to a HK$12bn (£1.06bn) reduction in the project's original £5.66bn price.

I hope you will enjoy reading how the project team comprising contractors, consultants and KCRC staff has been tackling the many challenges of this exciting project.

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