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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 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.