Hong Kong protesters challenge costly rail project

Demonstrators in Hong Kong have ringed the city's legislature in protest against government plans for a high-speed railway.

The HK$66.9 billion (£5.4 billion) high-speed line connecting Hong Kong to the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou has been championed by officials as a vital infrastructure project that could bring upwards of HK$87 billion in economic benefits over 50 years by vastly cutting travel times to Chinese cities. It would augment the slower existing link.

Public bitterness has grown, however, over the planned razing of a village and rural swathes to make way for the project, along with growing cost estimates that now make the rail link one of the most expensive per kilometre in the world.

The rail link has also become a lightning rod for the venting of broader discontent at Hong Kong's lack of democracy and government accountability for major policies.

Pro-democracy politicians are poised to resign en-masse from the city's legislature this month in frustration at what they say is too slow a pace in political reforms.

"Hong Kong's role is changing in that no longer are we a so-called economic city. Hong Kong is fully aware that to stand up for our rights is the only way to safeguard our future," said Albert Lai, chairman of the Professional Commons.

The Commons is an influential coalition of working professionals, whose detailed proposal for a cheaper alternative rail link with fewer disruptions has so far fallen on deaf government ears.

An average of 99,000 passengers are expected by 2016 to travel daily on the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong link, which will join Hong Kong to China's high-speed rail network.

Officials have warned of great costs of further delays, while a fresh wave of Chinese visitors are expected to bring tourism, retail, logistics and other economic benefits.

Construction worker unions have also marched in support of the rail-link, saying it will bring thousands of new jobs.

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