Crossing the Bay: Bridges, Tunnels and Trains

After nearly a year of operation, the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge (HZMB) is now well-established as the final piece of the “ring” enclosing the Greater Bay Area’s 11 cities. This being the region that never sits still, therefore, it’s time to look at what comes next for other major projects linking the eastern and western sides of the Greater Bay.

The HZMB is not exactly a spectacular success, yet. It is pushing some incremental traffic into Macau and Zhuhai, but, to be frank, its greatest achievement to date has been to empty out the ferry terminals on either side, as it is significantly cheaper to cross the bridge by bus than to take a boat.  

There are three main reasons why the HZMB is not flooded with traffic: 1) It is excruciatingly difficult to get a permit for a private car on the bridge; 2) Its entry point is far from the downtown area of Hong Kong; and 3) It has no railway. 

There is a fourth reason, which is not spoken of in polite circles: because Shenzhen was left out of the bridge’s design, thanks to myopic Hong Kong lobbyists, who clamored for protection more than a decade ago when legendary business leader Gordon Wu, of Hopewell Holdings, first came up with the idea.

Anyway, it would have been absurd to think that Shenzhen was going to sit around waiting for something to fall out of the sky once the decision on the HZMB was made. Shenzhen needs its own link to the western side of the bay. The moment the city knew it was not going to get a “Double Y” shape on the HZMB’s design, it began drafting plans for its own cross-Bay land-sea connection. Those plans resulted in the Shenzhen-Zhongshan Bridge-Tunnel project, which is currently under way and due to be completed in 2024.

The 24-km long bridge component of the project is being constructed with a starting point at the East Artificial Island near the coast of Nansha. This will function as a transition hub between the bridge and a submarine tunnel from Shenzhen, which runs up the city’s coast, past the international airport in Baoan. This tunnel connects the three main ports at the western side of the city: Shekou, Chiwan, and Dachanwan. 

This massive project, however, like the HZMB, does not actually have a railway component to it. It is being built for vehicular traffic. 

This not a problem, of course. Another department has been assigned to the case. Railway projects are being built that will run in parallel to the bridge. The Intercity Railway Line between Shenzhen North, Humen  Dongguan, Nansha, and Zhonghshan, is under way.

That’s not all. On the drawing board is another high-speed railway that has been proposed to run straight across the Bay – via an underwater tunnel – between Shekou and Zhuhai’s new railway hub out in Hezhou, near the Zhuhai airport. This has not yet been approved by the provincial or central governments. Still, it’s worth thinking about, isn’t it?

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