Deconstructing the Geopolitics Behind Social Infrastructures in China and Colonial Hong Kong
2: "A Springboard for Securing Business in China": British Involvement in the Electrification of the Kowloon-Canton Railway, 1976-1985
Friday, March 25, 2022
1:30pm – 3:00pm EST
Virtual Paper Presenter(s)
University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong
The Kowloon-Canton Railway (KCR) was built in the early twentieth-century as a means of securing Hong Kong’s position as the premier port of the South China Sea. For over half a century, it was a single-track line, transporting passengers and foodstuff between Hong Kong and Guangdong province. By the 1970s, the KCR needed modernisation, and the colonial Hong Kong government decided to electrify and double-track the entire line. British Rail subsidiary Transmark was appointed as consultants for this project. Transmark’s feasibility studies and project reports were written with British manufacturers Metropolitan Cammell (MetCam) in mind, and the KCR did eventually place large orders for MetCam trains. However, this was not without controversy, as MetCam, with the help of both colonial and British officials, had to fight off competitive international bids. These officials were adamant that MetCam had to win the Hong Kong contracts to secure the company’s future, and to increase the chances of British success in winning Chinese railway contracts. This paper examines British involvement in colonial Hong Kong railway development and how this was used as a means of securing contracts and business in China. I will explore the development of British interest in Chinese railway development, and how Hong Kong was used as a ‘springboard’ to try and secure Chinese business. As such, this paper goes beyond railway history and examines the histories of business, diplomacy and infrastructure.