“Engineers are not God”: Hong Kong blames bad luck for $2.1bn rise in Shatin rail costs

Hong Kong’s 17km underground rail line from Shatin to the central station is expected to cost at least US$2.1bn more than its original $9bn budget due to factors that could not have been foreseen, the team constructing it has said.

The developer, state-controlled MTR Corporation, attributes 70% of the increase to external factors such as archaeological finds, the late or incomplete handover of construction sites and foundation works for a future development at Exhibition Centre Station, which had not been accounted for in the original budget, reports the Hong Kong Free Press.

MTR also blamed a shortage of labour and unfavourable ground conditions.

The route of the Shatin-to-Central line

"Engineers are not God," a source commented to the South China Morning Post. "They can’t predict everything and the complexity of the underground work is not something that can be fully controlled."

The project is set to be more expensive than the Hong Kong section of the high-speed rail link between it and Shenzhen, which is set to cost $10.8bn after overrunning by $2.5bn in 2015.

Complex ground conditions are a danger with subterranean projects in the region. A scheme to build Hong Kong’s deepest and longest subsea road tunnel was put back by two years owing to unforeseen ground conditions, and the contractor, Bouygues, was criticised for its tardy response to the "complicated technical problems" (see Further Reading, below).

MTR says in its publicity material for the project that the Shatin-to-Central line, part of the city’s Rail 2.0 programme of works, had to negotiate an "underground maze".

The new line is expected to enter service in 2019.

Top image: Work under way at the Causeway Bay section of the line (Exploringlife/Creative Commons)

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