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Sneak peek at Hong Kong’s first new railway line in a decade

MTR opens doors to stations along new South Island Line ahead of next week’s launch

Tens of thousands of Hongkongers flocked to brand new MTR stations on Saturday for a sneak peek at the city’s first new railway line in more than a decade.

Train services were not running ahead of the official opening of the long-awaited South Island Line next Wednesday, but the MTR Corporation invited the public to inspect its four new stations in Southern District and the extended interchange at Admiralty that will link it to the rest of the city’s railway network. Some 28,000 people responded to the invitation.

The HK$16.5 billion line, the first to open since the Disneyland Resort Line in 2005, will feature driverless three-carriage trains and run from South Horizons in Ap Lei Chau to Admiralty via new ­stations at Lei Tung, Wong Chuk Hang and Ocean Park.

Other new additions are the Kwun Tong Line extension to Ho Man Tin and Whampoa, which opened in October, and the extension of the Island Line from Sheung Wan to Sai Ying Pun, the University of Hong Kong and Kennedy Town in 2014.

Excited residents and railway buffs could be seen thronging the platforms at Wong Chuk Hang and Ocean Park MTR stations for souvenir photos of the new driverless trains passing through during testing.

Among them was 53-year-old teacher Edmund Wud Tai-ming, who noted some the bare-bones design work at Wong Chuk Hang station.

“This station is simple and looks primitive, but us Hong Kong people, we like efficiency and if it does the job, great,” he said.

“It is very convenient for us to travel between Kowloon and Hong Kong Island. In the past we suffered from the traffic in the tunnel so we didn’t know when we would arrive at our destination but now we will have more control of our time.”

He added that he usually spent around 70 minutes travelling to and from Wong Chuk Hang into Central and Kowloon.

Sam Chan Siu-lim, 59, described Wong Chuk Hang station as “fresh” but “small”. The South Island Line would transform his life, he said, after waking up at 5.30 am daily to go to work while avoiding the traffic jams and crowds between Aberdeen and Central.

Asked whether the rail operator was ready for the opening on December 28, Francis Li Shing-kee, the MTR’s operating head , said it had been going smoothly since trial operations began on October 1.

“We haven’t found any big issues and we have managed well,” he said. “We will do our best and try to identify as many [problems] as possible. At the moment, we are ready for the train service [to start].”

The new line is ­expected to serve 170,000 people a day.

The fare for the four-minute journey from Admiralty to Ocean Park will be HK$5.30, while that for the 11-minute trip to South Horizons will be HK$6.70.

Why electric cars aren’t the best route to truly sustainable transport in Hong Kong

Evan Auyang says a green transport policy must include steps to curb the huge growth in vehicle numbers, adopt more technology, and promote walking and cycling

Hail the adoption of electric cars in Hong Kong! Already a bestseller in the city, electric car maker Tesla recently announced it will soon launch a more affordable model. Crowds lined up at Tesla’s three showrooms across Hong Kong, even though the car won’t be ready until 2017. “It is very important to accelerate the transition to sustainable transport,” declared Telsa’s chief executive officer Elon Musk.

Is Hong Kong finally moving towards a more sustainable transport system? The government is certainly doing its share to promote the adoption of electric vehicles, having built more than 1,000 charging points across the city and offering tax incentives for the purchase of the cars. Indeed, Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah personally leads the Steering Committee on the Promotion of Electric Vehicles, which includes six other secretaries (or their representatives), including the environment, transport and development secretaries, as well as business leaders in the sector. This indicates the importance the government places on the issue.

And let’s not forget, Hong Kong is No 1 in the world in terms of adoption of public transport. Ninety per cent of motorised journeys are made on public transport such as railways, buses and minibuses. This, coupled with the continued building of railways and the introduction of electric buses, plus increasing adoption of private electric cars, must mean Hong Kong is heading towards having the most sustainable transport system in the world, right?

Not quite.

Hong Kong lags significantly behind the rest of the world in at least three areas of sustainable transport policymaking: road space and congestion management; adoption of technology; and embracing cycling and walking as a popular means of longer-distance transport.

First, Hong Kong does not have a good vision of road space usage. This is clear from the worsening congestion on our roads, which is spreading beyond the traditionally busy areas such as Central. Now, traffic jams are common in Kowloon East (supposedly the emerging second central business district), Sha Tin, Tseung Kwan O, Tuen Mun and even Yuen Long.

The cause is the unprecedented rise in the number of vehicles on the roads in recent years, particularly private cars. From 2006 to 2016, the number of private cars has increased by 46 per cent, from 390,000 to 570,000, while the population has risen by less than 7 per cent. This alone accounts for 95 per cent of the increase in the total number of vehicles over the past 10 years. Hong Kong’s road building averages less than 1 per cent (in kilometre terms) per year. This means the number of vehicles is growing much faster than our roads can accommodate.

The impact of uncontrolled vehicle growth cannot be underestimated. As congestion mounts, the road-based public transport system (that is, buses and minibuses), which carries 50 per cent of public transport users, deteriorates in performance. Indeed, average bus speeds have fallen significantly in recent years. Because railways cannot reach all areas of Hong Kong and are generally deemed uncomfortable during peak hours, this would spur the increasing adoption of private cars. A vicious cycle is then produced, of even more vehicles on the road and even more desire to own a car for comfort and convenience. In fact, this is precisely what has been happening in the past few years.

Roads are like the blood vessels of a city – when they clog, economic activity slows. It’s possible to think of a handful of cities that have never lived up to their potential, such as Beijing, Bangkok and Mumbai, as the best international talent does not wish to live in severely congested cities.

Second, Hong Kong has been slow to adopt many sustainable transport and “smart city” practices. While it is truly world-class in its ability to build infrastructure, the city is not at the forefront in the adoption of IT-enabled demand-management tools. For example, many cities have heavily invested in smart information technology systems to control traffic flows, with major roads managed by sensors and cameras. Illegally parked cars are ticketed from traffic control rooms rather than relying on physical enforcement. In Hong Kong, illegal parking takes up 60 per cent of traffic police time.

In congestion-conscious cities like London, smart systems have been implemented to automatically manage traffic flows along major corridors on a real-time basis. Where traffic flows are determined to be less than optimal, algorithms automatically adjust the phases of traffic signals.

Singapore has already established working groups to look into driverless vehicles. By utilising the research and development know-how of the private sector, it is on the cusp of launching a pilot driverless bus service as well as on-demand private driverless car services and shuttles. For Hong Kong to be a truly world-class city, we need to get to the cutting edge of technological adoption, and research and development.

Third, Hong Kong has yet to embrace the truly green options of walking and cycling. Globally, international cities have implemented new policies to promote these non-motorised forms of transport. Cities are now increasingly aware that walking is actually the most efficient and greenest way to travel short distances and, as a result, have invested heavily in widening pavements and closing off vehicle lanes to create green space.

Pedestrianisation around New York’s Times Square has led to a dramatic fall in motorised traffic, while also cleaning up the air and allowing more tourists to take a pleasant stroll and shop in the area. Politically, this was very difficult initially, but citizens embraced the idea soon after it was implemented.

We must recognise that true sustainable transport goes well beyond just applauding the increased adoption of private electric vehicles and upgrading the city’s bus fleet and polluting diesel trucks. A more holistic approach is needed to imagine, then create, greener urban spaces for our future. It takes planning and execution. Moreover, it takes vision, knowledge and political courage to generate the right discussions to enable even small steps to be taken.

Evan Auyang is a board director of the independent think tank Civic Exchange

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Why HK-Guangzhou express will take more than 48 minutes

The time saving the government touts as a chief benefit of the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link is unlikely to materialize, Ming Pao Daily reported Tuesday.

There may be a total of six stations in the mainland section of the rail link, instead of the four the Hong Kong government has been claiming, the newspaper said.

Since it applied to the Legislative Council in 2009 for funding for the line, the government has said there will be only four stations on the mainland side and that the journey between Hong Kong and Guangzhou will be shortened to 48 minutes by express rail from the 100 minutes the existing train service takes.

Ming Pao reporters have, however, seen for themselves that a total of six stations are ready or under construction in the mainland section of the express link.

New People’s Party legislative councillor Michael Tien Puk-sun, who chairs Legco’s panel on transport, and labor constituency lawmaker Bill Tang Ka-piu, its vice-chairman, said they were not aware of the additional two stations.

They urged the government to provide an explanation.

Responding to media inquiries about the number of railway stations and the number of stops on the train journey between Hong Kong and Guangzhou, the Transport and Housing Bureau said it has been in regular communication with the relevant mainland authorities about the operational arrangements for the railway and that the discussions are ongoing.

In the documents the government submitted to Legco in 2009, the four stations in the mainland section are named as Futian, Longhua (now renamed to Shenzhen North), Humen and Shibi (now renamed to Guangzhou South).

At a Legco meeting earlier this month, Secretary for Transport and Housing Anthony Cheung Bing-leung was still saying there will be only four stations on the link’s mainland side.

However, the reporters found two additional stations, Guangming Cheng and Qingsheng, which started operating four years ago, on Dec. 26, 2011.

The official website of the high-speed railway shows that of the average 170 train journeys made between Shenzhen North and Guangzhou South each day, only 18 percent are non-stop.

The other 82 percent make at least one stop, mostly at Humen Station.

Reporters who took the express train found that it requires 36 minutes to travel from Shenzhen North to Guangzhou South with one stop in between.

As Hong Kong and Shenzhen North are over 38 kilometers apart, the journey between them will take about 23 minutes.

The entire journey could take about 59 minutes, and even longer if more stops are made.

Albert Lai Kwong-tak, convener of the Professional Commons, said the Hong Kong government’s failure to inform the public of the latest arrangements regarding the high-speed railway is negligence of duty and a serious slip-up.

Lai hit out at the government for failing to reach agreement with the mainland authorities before making public the service pledge of “reaching Guangzhou in 48 minutes”.

“It’s not up to Hong Kong to decide, and we have no say, as we have footed the bill now while the train journey time and train schedules are under the control of someone else,” Lai said.

Meanwhile, New Territories West lawmaker Ben Chan Han-pan, who chairs Legco’s panel on railways, defended the government, saying the authorities are not misleading the public.

Chan said the two new stations are smaller and will not be used as frequently by Hong Kong travelers.

He said the Hong Kong government would enjoy a fair share of input into the decision-making process about the railway, together with its mainland counterparts.

Chan said he believed MTR Corp. (00066.HK) will be able to skip some of the stations in the mainland so as to keep the journey time within 48 minutes.