Officials in Macau are targeting 2025 to complete a railway transportation system linking the islands of Cotai and Hengqin.
The Macau Light Rapid Transit (LRT) rail system currently serves much of the Cotai area. The transportation network runs from the Taipa Ferry Terminal at Macau International Airport, south to the Lotus Checkpoint, and then northwest to Ocean Park.
In the coming years, Macau will extend the LRT west across the Lotus Bridge into Hengqin. The roughly 1.4-mile extension will include half a mile underground.
Macau has contracted Nam Kwong Group, a Chinese conglomerate that specializes in infrastructure and transport services, for the LRT extension. The project is expected to cost MOP3.5 billion (US$440 million).
The rail line will travel into Hengqin and stop at the recently opened Hengqin Border checkpoint. Last year, Macau and Hengqin entered into an agreement that allows cross-border travelers to only undergo one screening each way. The Hengqin checkpoint is assigned to Macau’s jurisdiction, despite being located in Hengqin.
Construction on the Macau to Hengqin rail is expected to begin next month.
Macau is out of vacant land when it comes to commercial development. Coloane, which is south of the Cotai Strip, where the multibillion-dollar integrated resort casinos generate more gaming revenue than any other place on earth, want to keep the sleepy hollow just the way it is.
Hengqin, however, is fully supportive of commercial development, including leisure and hospitality. But being part of mainland China, and not a Special Administrative Region as is Macau, gambling is prohibited in Hengqin.
Macau leaders, as well as mainland officials, have urged the six licensed casino operators to invest in nongaming projects to better diversify the region’s economy.
There is no doubt that Hengqin is the best platform for Macau to participate in the construction of the Greater Bay Area and integrate into the country’s global development,” Macau Chief Executive Ho Iat Seng said during the Hengqin Border checkpoint’s opening last August.
The new checkpoint allows travelers to be processed and cleared in under one minute. The facility is capable of administering as many as 220,000 passengers daily.
Macau hopes the COVID-19 pandemic will long be a thing of the past when the rail line to Hengqin is completed. Currently, mainlanders trying to visit Macau are facing long delays in obtaining Individual Visit Scheme (IVS) visas.
Mainland China suspended electronic IVS applications at the onset of the pandemic to slow people from traveling leisurely to Macau and Hong Kong. Maria Helena de Senna Fernandes, director of the Macau Government Tourism Office (MGTO), said earlier this month that her office is working closely with mainland authorities to reimplement e-visas as soon as possible.
During non-pandemic times, mainland residents can apply for an IVS online or at a self-service kiosk at a border gate and print their visa immediately.
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