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The MTR Corporation has been ordered to map out a plan for the suspension of the ill-fated high-speed rail link to Guangzhou as the government makes a last-ditch attempt to secure

extra funding from sceptical lawmakers by end of this month.

If the government is eventually forced to put the brakes on the long-delayed and overbudget project because of a deadlock over the additional HK$19.6 billion needed, it will have to pay another HK$233 million per month for the suspension costs.

The acting chairman of the Legislative Council’s Finance Committee, Chan Kam-lam, said yesterday he was still unsure whether there would be enough time for voting on the funding, even with the extra meetings scheduled this month.

“It depends on how many members’ motions there are to process,” he said.

READ MORE: Hong Kong transport officials in emergency meeting over troubled high-speed rail project to mainland China

Chan said a decision to cut short the debate just to meet the deadline would “not be made lightly” and he would stick to council procedures.

After an emergency meeting with MTR chairman Frederick Ma Si-hang and other senior management, transport minister Anthony Cheung Bing-leung said yesterday the railway firm needed to submit an execution plan to the government within two weeks detailing the suspension arrangement, including discussions with contractors.

Cheung said the government needed to secure the extra funding by the end of March because HK$60 billion out of the original HK$65 billion obtained six years ago would be depleted by then.

“We are very worried...We can’t control the outcome so we have to prepare for the worst,” Cheung said.

“Time is running out now... The government must confirm in March whether it can secure the funding from the Finance Committee.

“If not, we need to issue a notice of suspension to MTR which will make the arrangement accordingly.”

A Finance Committee meeting descended into chaos last Saturday as pan-democratic lawmakers demanded clarity on a proposed joint immigration checkpoint at the West Kowloon terminus which they fear would breach the “one country, two systems” policy.

The government is seeking to add two more committee meetings, on March 12 and 19, to the two already scheduled for March 11 and 18.

Cheung urged lawmakers to green light the money to avoid grave consequences affecting the livelihoods of 7,000 workers.

The mega project would cost even more if construction was to resume in future, he warned.

The government revised the project’s final estimated cost last year to HK$84.42 billion from the original HK$65 billion in 2009, pushing the completion date to the autumn of 2018, three years later than originally planned.

 

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