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Chinese challenge

A massive infrastructure programme packed with major projects makes Hong Kong a prime destination for engineers seeking overseas work. Andrew Bolton reports.

If you fancy working in a bustling foreign city with a warm climate and access to the sea, Hong Kong could be the place for you. Local skill shortages created by an infrastructure-boom, mean that opportunities abound for foreign engineers.

Over the next five years, the Hong Kong government is planning to spend around £4bn a year on a range of major projects.

British engineers in particular are well placed to pick up work because Hong Kong’s engineering community has long-standing ties with the UK and the ICE.

English influence

Many Hong Kong engineers have ICE accredited qualifications, and many have studied or worked in the UK. English is also widely spoken, as there is a strong expatriate community of British engineers, especially within engineering teams.

Unlike many Western economies, Hong Kong has a budget surplus and has not had to bail out its banks


Major projects will dominate the civil engineering sector at least until the end of this decade, as the Hong Kong government pumps money into the economy to stave off the effects of the global recession. Unlike many Western economies, Hong Kong has a budget surplus and has not had to bail out its banks. As a result, it is spending on a range of infrastructure projects that make the UK’s infrastructure programme look rather paltry in comparison.
Road and rail spending dominate. On the rail side, subway operator MTR is involved with the construction of five major projects.

  • The £5.47bn high-speed rail line between Kowloon and the border with mainland China
  • West Island Line - a £1.3bn extension to the existing Island Line on Hong Kong Island
  • Shatin to Central project - a £5bn Crossrail-like tunnelled metro line under Kowloon and across Hong Kong’s harbour to Hong Kong island.
  • The extension of Kwun Tong line in central Kowloon.
  • South Island Line - a new 7km metro line running across Hong Kong Island

There are expected to be major opportunities for work on the high-speed rail line as work moves to site this year. Tunnelling contracts have all been awarded, and contracts to build the terminus station are being assigned now.
Work to build the South Island Line and Kwun Tong extension are expected to get onto site later this year, while the Shatin to Central Link is expected to get underway in 2012.

Aside from the rail sector, contractors have started work on parts of the Wan Chai bypass, a major road project along the congested northern edge of Hong Kong island involving land reclamation and tunnelling work.

Major roads

Other major roads are also in the pipeline including the massive Hong Kong-Zuhai-Macao crossing for which British owned consultants like Halcrow are planning to bid when detailed design work goes out to tender later this year. The crossing includes three cable stay bridges and an immersed tube tunnel. The construction contract for the tunnel has already been awarded and work on this section is expected to get underway this year.

The government is also investing heavily in the redevelopment of the old Kai Tak international airport and runway, as a 320ha residential and commercial development with a major cruise terminal.

There is also a strong British presence in the Hong Kong market. Consultants like Arup, Atkins, Halcrow, Hyder, Mott MacDonald and Tony Gee, plus US-owned Aecom and URS Scott Wilson are all established and are already involved with most of these projects in some capacity.

Contractors like Laing O’Rourke and Kier have also moved into Hong Kong attracted by the opportunities and have already begun to pick up work. Major French companies like Dragages, Bouygues, Bachy Soletanche and Vinci, plus Australian contractors like Leighton, are also potential employers of expats.

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