Macau's $10b light rail makes tracks at last

Top News | Charlotte Luo 11 Dec 2019

Macau's first mass transit system was launched yesterday, after nearly 20 years in the making - but immediately suffered a malfunction.

The Taipa section of the Macau Light Rapid Transit cost the government about 10.2 billion patacas (HK$9.9 billion) to build, including the construction and the rolling stock.

The 9.3-kilometer-long Taipa section has 11 stations, covering residential communities in Taipa city center, the old village, the tourist area, and the airport and Lotus Checkpoint.

The section of the railway was inaugurated by Macau Chief Executive Fernando Chui Sai-on in a morning ceremony, before the first ride departed from the Taipa Ferry Terminal Station at 3.33pm.

The train has two carriages for 100 people.

More than 300 people were waiting for the first trains outside the Taipa ferry station.

However, a train departing Ocean station on way to Taipa Ferry Terminal station malfunctioned at about 4pm.

Passengers had to get off at Lotus Checkpoint station, with some complaining about the messy arrangement. They had to leave the station to take a bus because trains were too crowded.

The ride will be free until December 31. Then passengers will need to get a ticket at gates.

The section, operated by Hong Kong's MTR Corporation, will run from 6.30am to 11.15pm Monday to Thursday, and from 6.30am to midnight on Friday to Sunday and public holidays. Each train will depart every five to 10 minutes.

From New Year's Day, the fees will be calculated for every three stops, with six patacas charged for three stops, eight patacas for six and 10 patacas for 10 stops, with discounted fares for children and students. For the elderly the ride is free. Those who use prepaid cards can get a 50 percent discount.

Speaking at the inauguration, Macao Light Rapid Transit Corporation chairman Ho Cheong-kei said the construction of the light rail encountered many difficulties in the past eight years, but the cost of building the Taipa section was kept within 11 billion patacas.

Secretary for Transport and Public Works Raimundo do Rosario did not expect the line to break even soon.

Electricity alone will cost about 40 million patacas0each year whereas tickets cost only six to 10 patacas, he said.

Hong Kong's MTR Corp played a big part in the project first proposed by the Macau government in 2002.

It was entrusted with making a feasibility study on a railway system.

The rail operator signed agreements with the Macau government on training personnel and sharing technological know-how. Six light rail projects were contracted to MTRCL between 2012 and 2018.

The light rail project had been criticized by the public for being unable to meet the needs of Macau residents and not being cost-effective.

Then the Secretary for Transport and Public Works, Au Man-long, decided to suspend the original plan in 2003.

Only four years later did Macau released an improved plan and the route for the first phrase, with an expected launch date in late 2011.

In the end, the project was delayed as costs rose from 4.2 billion patacas to 10 billion patacas. Construction started only in 2011.

Larry So Man-yum, a political commentator and former university professor based in Macau, said the opening of the Taipa section can provide only limited relief to the traffic congestion in Macau as many locals live, work or go to school at the peninsula.

"It would be convenient for tourists as the rail connects three ports," he added.

The government now aims the complete the section connecting Taipa and Barra, budgeted at 4.5 billion patacas, in 2022 or 2023.

The government signed a 5.8 billion pataca, 80-month contract with MTRCL in April last year to operate the Taipa section.


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