Contractors are facing increasing uncertainty over plans for the US$4.5bn Sha Tin to Central railway line, most of which will be built underground, following confirmation that the Kowloon-Canton Railway Corporation (KCRC) is carrying out a review of the 18km rail line. This could delay the opening by one or two years.

The study will also consider scaling back the scope of the project, so that instead of crossing Victoria Harbour to reach Hong Kong Kong Island, the line ends in Kowloon. Alternatively, KCRC may build a cross-harbour extension to the existing East Rail line from Hung Hom to the CBD.

The changes, which have yet to be fully explained, have confused legislators, although consultants who are in the process of completing seven technical studies said they are continuing to work normally.

KCRC was due to place advertisements inviting tunnelling, civil engineering and building contractors to express interest in bidding for the scheme in August this year. But it was unclear, as T&TI went to press, whether this would happen.

Sowing the seeds of confusion, Secretary for Environment, Transport and Works, Sarah Liao confirmed the government and KCRC are reviewing the project in the wake of changes in population growth. She said completion might be put back one or two years from the 2008 deadline given in KCRC’s franchise, but within the 2008-2011 window recommended in the government’s rail development strategy.

Ms Liao said that instead of running from Tai Wai to the Central Business District, the line could instead run from Tai Wai to Hung Hom. The East Rail line would then be extended to Central. She gave no indication when the review might be completed or when a decision on the fate of the line would be made.

Speaking later, Rita Lau, a Permanent Secretary for the Environment, Transport and Works Department, added further to the confusion when she told legislators that nothing had changed.