Convenience & controversy: Hong Kong-China high-speed rail link opens
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Convenience & controversy: Hong Kong-China high-speed rail link opens

IN September, Hong Kong opened a new high-speed rail link that uses a bullet train called “Vibrant Express” to connect Hong Kong to inland China, a project that has been eight years in the making.

Costing upward of US$10 billion, the system aims to transport more than 80,000 passengers daily between Hong Kong and the neighboring manufacturing hub of Guangdong province.

Thousands of journalists, tourists, and train enthusiasts queued for hours to become the first passengers to travel on the train’s maiden journey on Sept 23.

The reception was overwhelmingly positive, with passengers commenting the “ride is so smooth,” and others proclaiming, “It’s so fast!” But exactly how fast is “so fast” and what else makes this project so special?

How fast is fast?

The trains provides two classes of seats: second class and first class.

It tops out at a speed of 200 kilometres per hour, but it covers the 26 kilometres through Hong Kong to Shenzhen across the border in China in just 14 minutes. Prior to this, the journey used to take about an hour.

The through-train to Guangzhou will take just over half an hour. That is a whopping total of 90 minutes faster than the current service.

It also links Hong Kong up to China’s high-speed rail network, the world’s largest, which allows passengers to travel from the city to Shanghai and Beijing.

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Chinese flags are seen outside a train during the first day of service of the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link in Shenzhen. Source: AFP PHOTO / POOL / TYRONE SIU

To add on, the 15-track station, complete with an expressive, sleek white curvature, was designed by multiple award-winning international firm Aedas.

Yet, not everyone is pleased.

What was the controversy?

While the new bullet train will vastly decrease travel times, it also raised concerns about Beijing’s creeping influence over and encroachment of the semi-autonomous Chinese region.

The train departs from the West Kowloon station, which is located in central Hong Kong, a strategic location for passenger pick up and drop off.

However, Hong Kong and China agreed on a joint checkpoint agreement, which divided West Kowloon station into two port areas, with one falling under the direct jurisdiction of Beijing.

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A China policeman patrols a train on the first day of service of the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link in Hong Kong. Source: AFP PHOTO / POOL / TYRONE SIU

For the uninitiated, Hong Kong is a former British colony that was returned to China in 1997, but until today, it’s not entirely under Chinese rule.

The territory has a “one country, two systems” that gives it freedom and sets it apart from China. This includes independent judicial power and law enforcement.

“According to the agreement, the Chinese authorities will have the power to arrest individuals inside the station, or even transfer them to the mainland,” CNN reported.

“Critics fear that if Chinese police are able to operate in the city, this will give them a base from which to go after critics of the central government.”

Meanwhile, the Hong Kong government is fully supportive of the integration as it believes it would help Hong Kong play a key role in the Greater Bay Area.

Guangdong province governor Xingrui Ma believes the rail will “open up businesses, tourism, visitations to families and friends, and provide convenience and comfort services to the residents between the two lands.”

This article originally appeared on our sister site Travel Wire Asia

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