23 June 2000
Sheung Shui to Lok Ma Chau Spur Line striking a balance between impacting on people and wildlife
 
Urgent Need
Boundary crossing at Lo Wu has been growing rapidly in the past years.On average, over 200,000 daily crossings are made.The figure is much higher during festival holidays, and 335,000 people crossed Lo Wu on a single day during last Easter holidays.
The Spur Line is urgently needed to increase boundary crossing capacity.The railway will be connected to Shenzhen's Metro system linking Lo Wu in the east and Futian and Shekou in the west.
Long Valley
Long Valley is a fresh water wetland formed by wet agricultural farming and bloodworm ponds.It is bounded by River Beas and Sutlej in the north and villages of Yin Kong and Tsung Pak Long in the south.The marshland supports a diversity of bird species.
The ecological value of the valley was identified in the preliminary Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and has been reaffirmed in the detailed EIA report published on 12 June 2000.
In the course of selecting an alignment, the need to avoid the valley was considered.However, due consideration must also be given to other important factors including impacts on the village settlements, railway safety and engineering constraints.
Trains to Lok Ma Chau must leave the main line by curving to the west. For operational safety, a train must go through a curve on a slanting surface similar to a car negotiating a bend.Technically, it is impossible to connect the Spur Line to the main line on two curves slanting towards opposite directions.This constraint means that the Spur Line must be joined to the main line on straight tracks and the only location available is a short length of straight tracks north of Sheung Shui Station.
Other factors which have to be taken into account are the impact on road system and infrastructure facilities close to the railway.
Alternative Routes
KCRC has revisited all alternative routes, taking into account comments and suggestions put forward by various quarters. Results of these studies are summarized as follows:
Northern Route

This route will avoid Long Valley.But it will run very close to Ho Sheung Heung, requiring more land take and creating greater impacts on people, and fung shui and graves problems.To facilitate connection to straight tracks, the main line will have to move eastward about 15m.The track straightening works will affect existing East Rail services, the delivery sidings to the Sheung Shui Slaughter House and two 180 cm dia. inlet pipes into Shek Wu Hui Sewage Treatment Works.This will lead to the closing down of both facilities for three to six months which is totally unacceptable.

River Beas Route

This route runs through the northern part of Long Valley and is 100 m closer to Ho Sheung Heung, creating greater impacts on the villagers.This route is also in conflict with the two inlet pipelines to the sewage treatment works.To pass over the East Rail tracks and the slaughterhouse sidings, a new bridge with a clear span of 250 m will be required.Foundation for such a long bridge structure cannot be constructed without encroaching on the slaughterhouse.Again this will cause unacceptable disruption.

Further North Route

This route will enable upline trains to run further north to clear the 800 m dia. curve before travelling back to leave the main line.Trains do not operate as flexibly as buses.The process to maneuver a train to travel backward will take about 5 minutes.This will cause unacceptable disruption to existing East Rail which are running a train every three minutes during the peak hours.

Tunneling Through Long Valley

Due to the gradient restriction (2.5%) and the close proximity of Long Valley to the main line, a train would have cleared Long Valley by the time the descent has reached a sufficient depth of a tunnel.

Southern Route 1

This route will run very close to the villages of Tsung Pak Long and Yin Kong.Similar to the Northern Route, it will create greater impacts on the village environment there.Furthermore, to enable Lok Ma Chau trains to clear East Rail tracks at ground level, the Po Shek Wu Road Bridge must be raised by eight metres. The reconstruction of the bridge and the surrounding road system will cause unacceptable disruption to the busy road traffic to Man Kam To.

Southern Route 2

This route will connect to the main line south of Sheung Shui Station.The connection will deprive the population in Sheung Shui and Northwest New Territories of an opportunity to board trains at Sheung Shui Station and hence a direct access to Futian, the new commercial centre in Shenzhen.

On balance, the gazetted alignment is superior than these alternative routes, taking into account impacts on people, traffic and infrastructure facilities.
 
How to Address Environmental Issues
The detailed EIA report has identified issues of environmental concern and made wide ranging recommendations to mitigate the impacts.
For the first time in Hong Kong, the report includes an assessment of disturbance impact on birds and recommends that wetlands be created before construction starts.The key recommendations are:

•To mitigate impacts at ground level, about 5 km of the 7.4 km railway will be constructed on viaduct.

•The ecological value of 28.5 ha of fishponds to the west of Lok Ma Chau Station will be enhanced to enable birds to feed on shallow water.

•Direct and disturbance loss of 1.7 ha of wetlands in Long Valley will be compensated by on-site and off-site reprovisioning. 2 ha of temporary wetland to the west of Long Valley will be created before construction starts, and 3.8 ha of permanent wetland will be made available below the viaduct and in meanders along River Beas. 

•Wetland reprovisioning will be monitiored by bird specialists who are already using radio techniques to study movement of birds in the valley.

•Noise construction work will not be carried out during the birds breeding season.

•Except the foundation columns, the viaduct will be constructed by pre-casting method. To avoid heavy equipment on site, launching girders will be used to assemble the pre-cast elements similar to the construction of Hung Hom Bypass.

•Vehicle access to the valley will be restricted to the two ends of the narrow strip of railway land.

•KCRC will deploy environmental and community relations officers on site to supervise contractors' activities and to handle enquiries and complaints. 

•Noise of a running train will be mitigated by low vibration track, floating slab track, train skirts and a multi-plenum system to attenuate airborne noise at source. Full enclosures will be installed at railway points and crossings. 

•Visual impacts will be mitigated by trees/climbers planting below the viaduct and on columns and parapets, reinstatement of fishponds and integration of the viaduct design with the local environment. 

There are a lot of examples to show that man-made wetlands are a success.Mai Po is a marshland created by fish and shrimp farmers and managed by World Wildlife Fund.The Westland Centre in Barn Elms, London is a man-made wetland surrounded by human habits.One of the largest man-made bird sanctuaries is being created in Lakenheath, UK under the auspices of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.
 
Conclusion
Divergent views have been expressed by various quarters.The green groups have asked for a total avoidance of Long Valley and local villagers are against any change of the gazetted alignment.Taking into account public views and all crucial factors, the gazetted alignment with the mitigation measures has achieved the best possible balance between impacting on people and wildlife.