Time-scale maps of the Hong Kong MTR

If you haven’t seen a ‘time-scale’ map of a transit system before, they are an interesting concept – instead of displaying every line and station in a way that makes it each to navigate from point A to point B, they allow you to compare how long it takes you to reach point A from points X, Y and Z.

Over on Reddit, there are two different versions shared to /r/HongKong – both the creation of a Redditor by the name of carpiediem.

The first diagram looks like a tree, with each MTR line radiating out from Central station on Hong Kong Island, with the distance between Central and every station indicating the travel time required to reach it.

’Tree’ format time-scaled MTR network map by ’carpiediem’

The second version illustrates the same data, but with the lines running parallel to each other, instead of branching.

’Line’ format time-scaled MTR network map by ’carpiediem’

Both diagrams plot the same data, with the journey time data for each station having been pulled from the MTR website.

Some points regarding the diagrams:

  • Taking a counterintitive route can sometimes be faster than the single train alternative
  • Lai King is incredibly fast to reach via the Tung Chung line
  • Heading underground to Tsim Sha Tsui East station takes forever/li>
  • The same applies for the walkway to Hong Kong station
  • Lohas Park is one very slow stop, thanks to the irregular shuttle service
  • The single stop to Disneyland also takes a lot of time
  • Mong Kok is an inner city station that is surprisingly difficult to reach from Central
  • Lok Ma Chau is the longest journey from Central
  • The ex-KCR East Rail and West Rail lines are very fast given the distance travelled
  • Changing to the Ma On Shan line loses a lot of time

And a final note – the above time-scale diagrams only apply to journeys starting or ending at Central station. In order to compare travel times from any other station, a completely different map will need to be drawn for each and every one. This is due to the Hong Kong MTR network forming a complex mesh, which means calculating the fastest route from point A to points X, Y and Z isn’t a process that can be automated easily.


The first place I saw time-scale network map concept was the Boston T-Time diagram – it was created back in 2012 by Stone Brown Design.

A related style of diagram that links travel time to geography is a isochrone map – “a line drawn on a map connecting points at which something occurs or arrives at the same time”.

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Riding the Hong Kong MTR in 1993

Here is another YouTube find – this time footage of the Mass Transit Railway during 1993-1994, filmed by the same person behind the KCR ride to Lu Wu.

A quick synopsis:

  • 0:01 – original-condition entrance staircase to Tsim Sha Tsui station
  • 0:03 – single journey ticket machines
  • 0:09 – turnstiles without Octopus card capability
  • 0:13 – original condition Metro Cammell EMU arrives into the platform at Tsim Sha Tsui, with no screen doors
  • 0:34 – passengers empty out of the train
  • 0:38 – onboard the train
  • 0:50 – door closing chimes
  • 1:08 – ‘Metro Cammell England’ brand on the door treads
  • 1:15 – inside an almost empty train
  • 1:22 – train departs Central station
  • 2:02 – riding the escalators
  • 2:14 – train arrives at Central station
  • 2:45 – Sheung Wan station with a departing train
  • 3:00 – changing platforms at Quarry Bay station
  • 3:12 – riding a train towards North Point
  • 3:28 – departing Wan Chai
  • 4:00 – single journey ticket machines
  • 4:02 – station concourse at Admiralty
  • 4:08 – Lippo Centre at Admiralty and passing trams
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Hong Kong memes and the MTR at Admiralty

The other day I found this meme making fun of crowded trains on the MTR, and thought the photo looked a bit familiar.

Hong Kong meme - MTR train after Admiralty station

(found on the ‘Hong Kong Memes’ Facebook page, but I’m unsure as to the original source)

Turns out it wasn’t a case of déjà vu – the photo of the empty train was one I took on my 2010 trip to Hong Kong.

An almost empty train on Hong Kong's MTR?

As to the story behind the meme, the joke referrers to MTR Island Line. As trains head west along the line through Causeway Bay and Wan Chai, more and more passengers board until they reach a crush load. At Admiralty the train then empties out again, as hundreds of passengers walk across the platform for a Tsuen Wan Line train under Victoria Harbour.

In they come

At least the queues to board the next train are orderly.

Orderly queueing at Admiralty station

The South China Morning Post wrote about congestion at Admiralty back in early 2014.

100 million tourists by 2023 prediction sparks fears the MTR will not cope
Stuart Lau and Ada Lee
24 January, 2014

It can be a worker’s hardest job of the day – squeezing into an MTR train during peak hours.

Some see four full trains go by before finally being able to struggle onto the fifth one at Admiralty station, while as many as 1,000 other people continue to line the platform, hoping for better luck with the next train.

“The long queues have been around for so many years without much improvement. It would be magic if you could get on the train easily at 6.30pm,” said Raven Wong Kar-yin, 40, an insurance worker waiting for a Tsuen Wan-bound train at Admiralty at that time last Thursday.

Observations showed that on a normal weekday evening, an average of 20 to 50 people queued outside each of the doors on Tsuen Wan-bound trains at Admiralty station, one of the most heavily used routes for cross-harbour commuters, between 6pm and 7pm.

That works out to more than 1,000 people at a time waiting for each of the trains that come every 106 seconds or so at one of the busiest interchange stations.

An MTR official with knowledge of the Island Line’s operation said the situation at Admiralty was “under control”, adding that queues were up to twice as long before station improvement work. But he admitted there had been an “obvious increase” in passengers in recent years.

Occupancy on the Island line was about 70 per cent. Veteran transport analyst Dr Hung Wing-tat said the 70 per cent occupancy rate could mean some stations were close to or had already exceeded their capacities, as some stations were less crowded than others.

The rest of the article is a whinge about tourists from Mainland China – a favourite hobby horse for Hong Kong locals, and a story for another day.


In the comments one railfan pointed out that the ‘full’ train was a different model to the ’empty’ one.

After that the train change itself from a M-Train to a K-Train ? lol

Another pointed out that K-Train stock doesn’t run on the Island Line.

不過……乜K-Train會經過 Admiralty 㗎咩?

To which one reply was.

To those arguing between K-Train and M-Train you have no sense of humour and that’s not funny

It is a common complaint from railfans around the world.

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New ‘lift only’ MTR station entrances

On December 28, 2014 the new West Island Line of the MTR opened, extending the existing Island Line to the western end of Hong Kong Island at Kennedy Town. Along the way are two intermediate stations – Sai Ying Pun and HKU – which both feature something new on the rail network of Hong Kong: ‘lift-only entrances’.

Diagram of platform, concourse and exits at HKU Station on the MTR West Island Line

Across the Hong Kong MTR network escalators and stairs are the standard method of access to station concourses and platforms, due to their high passenger carrying capacity, with lifts having been provided in later years to cater for people with limited mobility.

However in the case of the new West Island Line stations, the steep slopes of Hong Kong Island make this difficult – HKU station is 70 metres below ground at the University of Hong Kong exit:

Cross section diagram of HKU Station on the MTR West Island Line

With Sai Ying Pun station also having a planned exit on Bonham Road, located on a hill 50 metres above the station.

Cross section diagram of Sai Ying Pun Station on the MTR West Island Line

The world’s deepest metro station is Arsenalna (Арсенальна) on the Kiev Metro in Ukraine – at 105.5 metres below ground it has two flights of escalators linking the platform to the surface – so the depth itself wasn’t an unsolved problem.

However back in Hong Kong, the MTR took a different approach to their deep level stations: high-speed lifts. Their media release from November 2014 has the following to say:

When HKU Station opens at the end of December and Sai Ying Pun Station opens at the end of the first quarter of 2015 on the extended MTR Island Line, they will be the first stations in the rail network to feature “Lift-only Entrances”, which connect the hillside and lower levels in Western District, for the convenience of passengers and pedestrians alike.

At HKU Station, a total of 12 lifts have been installed in the unpaid area to connect the station concourse level with Pok Fu Lam Road and the University of Hong Kong. At Sai Ying Pun Station, eight lifts will serve the Bonham Road and First Street/Second Street entrances.

They go on to explain how the lifts will cope with the large number of passengers expected to use the station:

To ensure a smooth flow of people, each lift at the Lift-only Entrances is designed with doors on two sides, one for users to enter and the other for exit. Special queuing arrangements will be implemented with clearly marked lift positions and queue lines.

As well as the safety features fitted to the lifts, allowing them to be used for the evacuation of the station during a fire or other emergency:

The Lift-only Entrances feature enhanced designs from normal lifts including:

  • Dual feed essential power supply, fire resistant power cable and addition of individual control function to enhance reliability;
  • Extra fire and smoke protection devices such as fire curtains, pressurised refuge lift lobbies and protected staircases to enhance passenger safety in emergency cases;
  • Flashing signs and public announcements to direct passengers to leave the station safely via protected staircases and refuge lifts in the event of fire in nearby passageways;
  • Designated refuge points for persons with disabilities;

Following a media tour of the new HKU station, the South China Morning Post wrote of the safety features:

Emergency ‘refuge areas’ at deepest MTR stop
Timmy Sung
Thursday, 20 November, 2014

Passengers in the MTR’s biggest and deepest underground station will evacuate to “refuge areas” in case of fire, the corporation said yesterday as it insisted facilities on its new West Island Line were safe.

The company’s head of operations, Francis Li Shing-kee, said each lift could carry up to 28 passengers to the surface in less than 30 seconds and would also be used for evacuation in case of fire.

He said passengers would be directed to “refuge areas” to take the lifts, one level above the concourse, in case of emergency.

“The passengers are pretty much safe once they enter the refuge area, because the area is covered with fire systems like sprinklers and it is pressurised,” Li said, adding that passengers could either choose to take the lifts to the ground or use an emergency stairway.

Fire curtains will also drop down automatically to cover the lifts’ doors to stop the spread of smoke and the lifts have two independent power supplies to enhance their reliability, the MTR said. There are also designated refuge points for disabled people.

Li said the shelter design and use of lifts for evacuation were the first of their kind in the MTR’s network, and that they had met all the government’s safety requirements.

Drills were also carried out to familiarise staff with the emergency procedures.

The MTR Corporation uploaded this video to YouTube to describe how the lift-only entrances work, as well as showing off the emergency refuge areas.

At concourse level each lift lobby there is a dedicated queuing area.

HKU station: lift-only entrance at concourse level

Each lift has two sets of doors, with the ‘exit’ set opening before the ‘entry’ doors in order to enforce a one way flow of passengers.

HKU station: double doors at the lift-only entrance

The staircase leading to the emergency refuge area is found behind the lift lobby.

HKU station: stairs to the emergency refuge area at the lift-only entrance

Passengers head up the stairs to the smoke and fire proof room.

HKU station: emergency exit at the lift-only entrance

Passengers can wait in safety for the next lift to arrive, to take them back to the surface.

HKU station: emergency refuge area at the lift-only entrance

The alternative route is 12 floors of stairs!

HKU station: 12 floors up if you decide to use the emergency stairs

The same lifts serve both the station concourse and the refuge area, as can be seen by the buttons inside the lift.

HKU station: button for the ’refuge area’ at lift-only entrance

Building emergency refuge areas would have been an expensive exercise, but was required by government regulations – passengers evacuating a smoke filled station can’t just stand around waiting for a lift back to the surface! Instead, the refuge provides a safe place for the crowds expected to be inside the station to wait, allowing them to slowly make their way out of the station via the lifts over an extended period of time.

Long queues?

Since HKU Station serves a busy university campus, seeing large crowds isn’t something completely unexpected. However this video from January 19, 2015 shows some very long lines to access the station.

Given that it shows the first evening rush hour of the term, it raises a question: will the lifts cater for the expected number of passengers in rush hour, or are the queues just teething troubles caused by commuters not yet familiar with the new arrangements?

A few more videos

On November 19, 2014 local English-language TV station TVB Pearl ran a piece on the new station and lift-only exits:

As did the Chinese-language Now TV:

However if you are still feeling confused by the lift-only exits, this video from HKU station shows you them from concourse to surface.

Technical details

This brochure on the lift-only entrances has been released by the MTR – as a 26 MB PDF document.

The MTR media release from November 2014 included a fact sheet detailing the specifications of the lifts at each station:

HKU Station (located 70 metres underground)

  • Entrance A1 and A2 – University of Hong Kong
  • Number of lifts: 8
  • Maximum loading capacity: 1,800 kg per lift
  • Entrance C – Pok Fu Lam Road
  • Number of lifts: 4
  • Maximum loading: 2,100 kg per lift

Sai Ying Pun Station (located 50 metres underground)

  • Entrance B1 and B2 – First Street/Second Street
  • Number of lifts: 4
  • Maximum loading capacity: 2,100 kg per lift
  • Entrance C – Bonham Road
  • Number of lifts: 4
  • Maximum loading: 2,100 kg per lift

The use of smaller lifts at exit A1 and A2 at HKU seems curious – perhaps there were space constraints due to the larger number of lifts fitted in the shaft?

Overseas examples

Lift-only station entrances are not unheard of elsewhere in the world – Covent Garden tube station on the London Underground is one of the best known examples. Geoff Marshall’s ‘Tube Facts’ website lists the rest of the London Underground stations that rely on lifts: 19 in total!

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Hong Kong construction photos from mid-1990s

The 1990s was a massive decade for major infrastructure projects in Hong Kong, with the construction of the new Chek Lap Kok airport and associated transport connections occupying the city. Recently I discovered an extract of the book “15 Most Outstanding projects in Hong Kong” by Raymond Wong Wai Man, and it features construction photos from many of these projects.

Lantau Link at sunset

My top 5 picks are:

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