Riding the Kowloon Canton Railway in 1993

Here is another find from YouTube – footage from a ride on the Kowloon Canton Railway circa 1993.

The first half of the video covers the journey from Kowloon Station to Lo Wu and a look across the border into mainland China, while the return trip ends at Kowloon Tong station.

Here is a full rundown:

  • 0:00 Cross Harbour Tunnel at Hung Hom
  • 0:10 Kowloon station (now Hung Hom station) exterior and pedestrian concourses
  • 0:26 Ticket machines on the station concourse
  • 0:35 Split-flap departure board
  • 0:42 Unrefurbished KCR EMU awaiting departure
  • 0:49 Other trains arrive and depart the station
  • 1:10 Roller blind destination board on the front of a train
  • 1:13 Departing Kowloon station
  • 1:30 Interior view of an unrefurbished KCR EMU
  • 1:37 Passing through Mong Kok station
  • 1:46 Looking across to Lion Rock
  • 1:52 747 passes overhead on final approach to Kai Tak Airport
  • 2:00 Looking across at Sha Tin
  • 2:04 Fo Tan station
  • 2:25 University station
  • 2:45 Interior view of a first class carriage
  • 2:56 Paralleling the Tolo Highway
  • 3:17 Looking across a curve towards a train coming the other way
  • 3:45 Tai Po Market station
  • 4:00 freight train passes out the window
  • 4:13 Tai Wo station
  • 4:22 Inside a sound barrier tunnel
  • 4:34 Village houses in the New Territories
  • 4:50 Approaching Fanling – Sheung Shui New Town
  • 5:05 Fanling station
  • 5:35 Interior view of a first class carriage
  • 5:52 Stabled ballast cleaning machine in the yard at Lo Wu
  • 6:05 More stabled track machines
  • 6:07 Looking across to the massive pipes that bring water from mainland China into Hong Kong
  • 6:20 Automated announcement approaching Lo Wu
  • 6:57 The platform ahead is occupied by another train, so the driver is apologising for the delay
  • 7:04 China Railways wagons in the freight yard at Lo Wu
  • 7:25 Stabled KCR diesel locomotive beside the maintenance shed
  • 7:35 More massive water pipes
  • 7:38 Arrival at Lo Wu station
  • 7:45 Chaotic mainland traffic outside Lo Wu station
  • 8:00 Demolishing buildings in Shenzhen
  • 8:08 Departing Lo Wu, looking at a KCR Single Journey Ticket
  • 8:14 Passing through the New Territories countryside
  • 8:26 Interior of a standard class carriage
  • 8:32 Looking across the water of Tolo Harbour towards Ma On Shan
  • 8:50 Paralleling the Tolo Highway
  • 8:58 Train departing Kowloon Tong station
  • 9:37 Through Train hauled by a China Railways diesel locomotive (DF4 class?) passes through Kowloon Tong station, hauling a train of white carriages with a light blue stripe
  • 10:19 Exterior of Kowloon Tong station


At the very end a Cathay Pacific 747 on final approach to the former Kai Tak airport.

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Seating onboard MTR trains

With eight carriages long trains operating on most lines of the MTR, the interior of the passenger saloon seems to keep on going, and going, and going.

An almost empty train on Hong Kong's MTR?

As for seating, longitudinal bench seats are the order of the day, of two different types. The ex-KCR fleet has horrible seating that is just flat benches: slouching is out of the question because your bum slides right off, and the lack of defined individual seats means your neighbour might end up a little too close for comfort.

Inside a Metro Cammell EMU

On the original MTR fleet the seats are a bit better, with each bench being broken up into individual seats.

'Seats' on Hong Kong's MTR trains

However on some of the busier lines even bench seats take up too much room, so ‘bum racks’ have been installed in their place. I believe the Island Line is the only one to have trains so fitted.

Wheelchair area on a MTR train

If you want a plush seat, then trains on the Disneyland Resort Line might be more up your alley.

Onboard a Disneyland Resort Line train

First class on the East Rail Line takes the level of comfort up another notch, for an additional fee.

First class seating in a refurbished Metro Cammell EMU

But the Airport Express is the fanciest at all. (and you would hope so given the HK$100 fare!)

Onboard the Airport Express train


The walk through design of MTR trains also makes evacuation easy – at each end is an emergency exit that leads into a cab, where a ramp can be lowered from the front of the train onto the track, allowing passengers to walk along the tracks in the tunnel to safety.

Emergency exit on a MTR train in Hong Kong

Unfortunately in the case of Hong Kong’s newest Chinese-built trains, the emergency exit design has run into many problems.

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Underground stations – living in the 1970s

I don’t visit Sydney, Australia often, but the last time I did, I spent my time in much the same way I did during my last trip to Hong Kong – riding around on trains and ferries.

During my travels I passed through the underground platforms at Redfern station for the Eastern Suburbs Railway.

Escalators down to platform 11/12 at Redfern

On seeing the escalator shafts I was immediately reminded of Hong Kong – the brown mosaic tiles took me back to the older parts of the MTR network, such as Sheung Wan station on the MTR Island Line.

Escalators and advertising at Sheung Wan station


The answer is yes: while Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs Railway and Hong Kong’s MTR network were both constructed during the late 1970s and has similar cost constraints placed upon them, different architecture firms were involved in each city.

For the Sydney station, the heritage listing for another ESR stations describes the brief presented to the architects responsible, Fowell Mansfield Jarvis and Maclurcan Pty Ltd:

Each of the new stations on the ESR, designed by Sydney architects Fowell Mansfield Jarvis and Maclurcan Pty Ltd, was given a unique colour scheme to differentiate it from the others and to give the new stations a modern look and maintaining a human scale in the underground setting.

As for Hong Kong, every station on the original MTR network was designed by one man – Italian architect Roland Romano Paoletti. This article about London’s Jubilee Line Extension details the rise of his career, and the constraints he had to work with:

The manner in which a whole new underground system was slashed into the fabric of Hong Kong was impressive but brutal, and hardly conducive to grace. Accountants were in charge; there were neither town-planners nor structural engineers, let alone architects, just mud-movers and alignment engineers.

In the stations, Paoletti ended by reducing to basics the elegant fit-out proposed by the English gentlemen Modernists of Sir Misha Black’s Design Research Unit. The Hong Kong lines were built by the cut-and-cover method, not in deep-bored tunnels, so the stations emerged as raw, horizontal caverns, vast enough to accommodate trains twice the length you have in London, and differentiated by colour alone. Efficiency was the brief, not salvation.

The similarity makes me wonder – have architects from other cities around the world also borrowed the same palette of mosaic tiles to decorate their railway stations.

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Octopus card time limits and expiry dates

If you are going to visit Hong Kong for more than a day or two, then a Octopus card is an essential part of getting around. Just load it up with money and travel wherever you like!

Ticket machines at Hung Hom station on the MTR

If you are just doing the normal tourist thing then this guide to using an Octopus card will serve you well, but if you are planning on spending days exploring the rail network like I did, then there are few things to keep in mind.

Time limits

The MTR Conditions of Issue of Tickets details a few time limits on Octopus card journeys that most people will never run into:

Surcharge on Travelling beyond Permitted Time

All passengers must, as far as reasonably practicable, travel to their destinations by the first available train after entering the paid area and all journeys must be completed by leaving the paid area through the exit gate within 150 minutes of passing through the entry gate.

Without prejudice to the application of Paragraph 1.5, a passenger who without lawful authority or reasonable excuse fails to leave the paid area within such 150 minutes is liable to pay a surcharge which is equivalent to the current maximum adult or concessionary fare (as appropriate) for a single direction journey

I ran into the above restriction on a particular convoluted journey across the MTR network, where I aimed to see the most of the network I could for the minimum amount of money!

When I eventually went to leave the paid area, my Octopus card was rejected by the turnstiles, and I had to head over to the customer service desk for assistance. Talking English to them was enough for them to believe that I was a lost tourist, so they did something to my card, and I was only charged for the fare between my origin and destination stations – not the maximum possible fare.

Station concourse at Chai Wan

A second restriction on Octopus cards also applies to trips to and from the same railway station:

Same Station Entry and Exit

A person who, after entering a station of the MTR using a ticket, without leaving the paid area of the URL at any other station using the ticket, leaves the same station through an exit gate using that ticket is liable to pay a charge as follows:

(a) where he/she leaves the station within 20 minutes after passing through an entry gate of the same station, he/she is liable to pay the current minimum adult or concessionary fare, as appropriate, for a single direction journey; and

(b) where he/she leaves the station beyond 20 minutes but within 150 minutes after passing through an entry gate of the same station, the charge payable is:

(i) $10 for any person other than a child, student, PwD or senior citizen;
(ii) $5 for any child or student; and
(iii) the current minimum fare for a single direction journey for a PwD or senior citizen.

I didn’t run into that rule, as all of my “out and back” inspection tours didn’t loop back to the station I started at.

The reason behind this rule is an unusual method of online shopping adopted by Hong Kong locals:

Online shoppers turn MTR into marketplace
Christopher DeWolf

In most parts of the world, online shopping is a straightforward process: find what you want, enter your credit card information and have it shipped to your home. Not so in Hong Kong, where analysts describe the online retail market as “underdeveloped” and consumers have long been sceptical of buying things online.

Here, consumers treat the Internet like a giant catalogue, scouring the web for bargains before venturing out into the real world to actually buy the goods. Vendors advertise products on sites like Uwants and Yahoo! Auctions, which function like online bazaars, where shoppers can browse for products, compare prices and, in many cases, negotiate with vendors.

“People enjoy the social interaction of shopping,” said Baniel Cheung Tin-sau, a marketing consultant and lecturer at the University of Hong Kong’s Faculty of Business and Economics. “It’s a chance to spend time with friends, which is why many people like to buy things offline.”

Those habits follow Hong Kong shoppers online. “If you buy something here, there’s usually no refund, and since Hong Kong is small, you don’t need to travel much to reach your destination,” said Cheung. So rather than risk receiving a dud in the mail, shoppers would rather walk to the nearest MTR station to pick up their purchase.

At the busiest time for exchanges, which is usually in the early evening after people get off work, some MTR stations take on the appearance of miniature marketplaces, with customers trying on clothes, chatting about camera lenses and sharing shopping tips.

Exploring the Light Rail

The fare structure for the MTR Light Rail network is based upon zones, and is hard to understand at first glance.

Single Journey Ticket Issuing Machine at a Light Rail stop

Things get even more complicated if you are intending to jump on and off the tram multiple times in a day to take photos of the network – in my case a lots of backtracking was also involved.

If you buy a Single Journey Ticket for the zones you are intending to pass through, a few conditions apply:

Each Single Journey Ticket is valid for 120 minutes after purchase and can be used only for a journey from the stop where the ticket is purchased to another stop in a single direction.

Using an Octopus card makes things a little simpler, but it works out to be incredible expensive if you touch on and off each time you head to the next tram stop down the road.

Passengers must validate their entry by touching their Octopus over an “Entry Fare Processor” before proceeding to board the train. With a green light and a ‘beep’ sound, “Permit to Travel” will appear on the Screen upon authorisation. The journey must be completed within 120 minutes.

When exiting from a Light Rail Stop users must touch their Octopus over an “Exit Fare Processor”to validate the completion of the journey. Otherwise a deduction equivalent to the maximum fare will be made.

Note that whatever ticket you decide to buy, the MTR has ticket inspectors to check that you have a valid one – I saw them in various places a half-dozen times on my exploration of the network.

Hiring a pushbike might be an easier to get lineside photos of the Light Rail!

Expiry date

Octopus cards don’t have an expiry date, but after 1,000 days of no value being added to the card it becomes deactivated, requiring you to visit a MTR Customer Service Centre to have it reactivated free of charge.

Hong Kong's bilingual Octopus cards?

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Transport market share to Hong Kong International Airport

There are many different ways to reach Hong Kong’s international airport from anywhere in the city – but the cost, speed and level of comfort differ. So which one is more popular?

Planes, trains and automobiles

Airport Express train

The Airport Express train operated by the MTR is the fastest way to get to Hong Kong and Kowloon and the most comfortable, with the ‘In-Town Check-In’ service allowing you to drop your bags at the railway station, and pick them up at your final destination airport.

Flight information display at Kowloon station

Unfortunately it isn’t a door to door service, but a complimentary shuttle bus operates between Hong Kong or Kowloon station and major hotels and railway interchanges.

As for the cost – it’s exactly HK$100 for a single journey. By comparison, a journey from Hong Kong to Tung Chung, less than one kilometre short of the airport and sharing the same line, is around HK$18. From the fare tables the most expensive ‘normal’ one I could find was Sheung Shui to Tung Chung for around HK$24 – pretty much one end of Hong Kong to another. The fares from one more station past Sheung Shui on the East Rail line (Lok Ma Chau or Lo Wu) doubles to around HK$50 – these are border crossings with China, so they must follow the airport ripoff rule.

Just goes to show how expensive rail journeys to airports are!

Onboard the Airport Express train

Express buses

Dedicated limited-stop bus routes operate from Hong Kong, Kowloon and the New Territories to the airport, with special areas for bulky luggage being provided. For a one way fare of around HK$20 depending on which area you are traveling from, it is cheaper than the airport train, but about double the price of a ‘normal’ bus across the same distance.

Busy roads in Ma On Shan


Hong Kong’s airport is a long drive from the urban areas of Hong Kong and involves many toll roads, so I’m not sure why anyone would bother. If you did, the ride will cost you around HK$250 to HK$300.

Taxis and trams at Shau Kei Wan.


You have to spend a lot of money to buy and run a car in Hong Kong, so if you were going to drive to the airport, paying HK$22 an hour for parking probably won’t bother you.

'Caribbean Coast' apartment  complex at Tung Chung

Market share by transport mode

The 2006 paper ‘Analysis of Airport Access Mode Choice: A Case Study in Hong Kong‘ by Mei Ling Tam and Mei Lam Tam provides a great level of detail around the transport modes used to reach Hong Kong International Airport.

They collected their data in 2004 by surveying waiting air travellers:

Of the total 496 samples, 50 percent were male and 50 percent were female. Around 55 percent of the respondents were aged between 16 and 35. Hong Kong residents accounted for two-thirds of the samples, while the remaining one-third were visitors from various countries.

The majority (85 percent) of the respondents were travelling for non-business purposes, such as a vacation or visiting friends or relatives. The remaining 15 percent were business travellers.

A quarter of the respondents were air passengers taking long haul flights (i.e. air journey time more than 6 hours). It was noted that 10 percent of the respondents had no check-in baggage, while 55 percent had one check-in bag. On average, each respondent carried 1.3 pieces of check-in baggage.

With the following results:

In general, public modes (including franchised buses and Airport Express Line (AEL)) dominate HKIA ground access market. Franchised buses have a large proportion (47 percent) with AEL having 23 percent. The primary reason attracting air passengers to use the franchised buses is the lower travel cost. ‘Shortest time required’ is the main reason for those who used AEL.

Hong Kong Transport Department (TD) statistics show that only 5 percent of the population in Hong Kong owns a private car (TD, 2004). Owing to this comparatively low car ownership rate, the use of the private car as the ground access mode to the HKIA is limited, and only accounts for 7 percent of the total sample.

A greater proportion of business air passengers (41 percent) than non-business air passengers (20 percent) accessed the HKIA by AEL. This is because business air passengers have a greater awareness of time cost than non-business air passengers. Non-business air passengers are more sensitive to travel cost than business air passengers, and this resulted in a greater proportion (49 percent) travelling by franchised buses.

Another breakdown of mode share to the airport can also be found in a presentation titled ‘Hong Kong Airport Express Line – A Success Story‘ by MTR operations manager K Y Leung.

Airport Express performance in 2006

  • 9.6 million passengers carried (26,600/day)
  • 23% market share of the airport traffic
  • 1.94 million passengers used In-town check-in service

It also includes a graph of historical trends in mode share.

Hong Kong airport transport market share - 1999 to 2006

And an analysis of the challenges facing the airport rail link:

  • Fierce competition from buses
  • High staff set-up cost
  • High facility replacement cost

The reasoning behind a preference for bus over rail services can be found in this case study, including in the 2000 Transportation Research Board report ‘Improving Public Transportation Access to Large Airports‘:

In order to understand the motivation for mode choice – and to explore the attribute of directness of service — MTR managers undertook some market research. Of those riders on the direct bus routes, an expected 55 percent said that the lower fare was a reason for choosing the bus; importantly, 51 percent stated that directness of service (i.e., no need to transfer) was a reason for their choice of mode. Directness of service was considered a factor by only 18 percent of rail riders, presumably those with destinations convenient to the terminals.

They also quote a conclusion reached by one of the original architects of the Hong Kong Airport Express:

It is apparent that even with a good design and well-integrated railway service, the Airport Express does not have inherent advantages over more direct single mode bus travel. In other words, the speed advantage of rail versus single mode road competitors when traveling over distances of only up to 34 km [21 mi] do not result in significant enough time savings to compensate for the necessary transfer.

Some lessons for other cities there?


The 2006 paper ‘Analysis of Airport Access Mode Choice: A Case Study in Hong Kong‘ by Mei Ling Tam and Mei Lam Tam has plenty more analysis of the reasons why passengers choose a given transport mode to reach Hong Kong airport.

The 2000 report ‘Improving Public Transportation Access to Large Airports‘ by the Transportation Research Board expands upon this, covering many other examples from around the world.

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