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.
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.
At least the queues to board the next train are orderly.
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
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’.
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:
With Sai Ying Pun station also having a planned exit on Bonham Road, located on a hill 50 metres above the station.
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;
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.
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.
The staircase leading to the emergency refuge area is found behind the lift lobby.
Passengers head up the stairs to the smoke and fire proof room.
Passengers can wait in safety for the next lift to arrive, to take them back to the surface.
The alternative route is 12 floors of stairs!
The same lifts serve both the station concourse and the refuge area, as can be seen by the buttons inside the lift.
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.
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.
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?
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!
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.
It operates two dangerous goods ferry routes: a 12 minute run between North Point on Hong Kong Island and Kwun Tong in Kowloon around ten times a day, and an as-required service to Mui Wo on Lantau Island which takes around 90 minutes one way.
From September to December 2014 protests occupied many streets across Hong Kong, in what was known as ‘Occupy Central’ or the ‘Umbrella Revolution’. As well as forcing road traffic to take alternate routes, the protests also disrupted tramway services on Hong Kong Island.
Tram tracks were blocked by protesters at two locations – Queensway in Admiralty and Yee Wo Street in Causeway Bay. The Hong Kong Tramways issued their first service update on 30 September 2014:
Due to the closure of the tram track section between Western Market and Victoria Park (including the Happy Valley Loop), tram services are temporarily disrupted until further notice. Services between Kennedy Town and Western Market (Sheung Wan MTR) and between Shau Kei Wan and Victoria Park are maintained.
Due to the closure of the tram track section at Admiralty and Causeway Bay, tram services are temporarily disrupted until further notice. Services between Kennedy Town and Pedder Street (Central), between Shau Kei Wan and Victoria Park and services along the Happy Valley Loop are maintained. We apologize for the inconvenience caused and look forward to resuming normal services.
Turning back trams is not simple – Hong Kong’s tram fleet normally operate in a single direction, with reversing loops being used to keep the trams facing the right way at the end of each route.
This video by ‘SE 692′ shows the special arrangements put in place at Victoria Park in Causeway Bay, where trams from the east were forced to turn back to Shau Kei Wan.
It also shows some of the spotting features for trams the ‘wrong’ way around, such as:
The rooftop resistor grid at the front end,
Passenger seats all face the ‘front’ of the tram,
Driving controls are provided at each end of tram but only the ‘front’ set has a seat for the driver,
Doors are fitted on both sides, but only one set is normally used
The use of crossovers to change direction is not normal practice on the Hong Kong Tramways, which is also why the trolley pole has to be manually transferred to the opposite wire – the crossovers themselves are unwired, so there is no other way for the tram to collect power while switching tracks.
Beyond the increased travel times for tram passengers, operating the network in two parts also had implications on the fares charged – each journey is a flat fare, so the disruptions potentially doubled the cost to passengers. As a result free transfer arrangements were also put in place by the Hong Kong Tramways:
Hong Kong Tramways Provides Free Tram Transfers
In order to mitigate impacts of the prolonged blockage of the tram tracks in Causeway Bay on tram passengers, starting from 30 Oct 2014, daily from 6:30am to 11:30pm, Hong Kong Tramways offers single-trip interchange free tram ride coupons for the alighted passengers in need: –
at Foo Ming Street tram-stop (#105) , whereas the coupons (with ‘E’ and date chop) can only be used for the Victoria Park to Shau Kei Wan route (east bound);
at Victoria Park tram-stop (#42W), whereas the coupons (with ‘W’ and date chop) can only be used for the Happy Valley to Kennedy Town route (west bound).
Each passenger will only be given one coupon upon request, which is valid on the date and the dedicated route only. Passengers shall present the coupon to the driver and put it into the coin box when alighting. Free ride coupon distribution is subject to change without prior notice. Thank you for your attention.
By November 2014 the Hong Kong Tramways claimed that the two months of protests had resulted in 3.9 million fewer passengers using the trams, which cost the company HK$7.8 million in revenue. The South China Morning Post has more on the subject:
Tramways loses HK$7.8 million revenue after being stopped in its tracks
29 November 2014
Hong Kong Tramways has urged pro-democracy demonstrators to release its occupied track in Causeway Bay, saying it had lost 3.9 million passengers and HK$7.8 million in revenue during the Occupy Central movement.
But Tramways managing director Emmanuel Vivant ducked a question on whether the company would follow Mong Kok transport operators in seeking court injunctions to have the road cleared.
“We are exploring our best options,” he said. “At the moment, we are focused on addressing the situation and trying to deliver the best service.”
Vivant said five of the company’s six routes remained disrupted, with 50 trams on the eastern side unable to return to a main depot for maintenance.
“We have taken a proactive and sincere approach and tried to appeal to the protesters to lift the blockade,” he said. “But we could not reach a consensus with the Causeway Bay protesters despite repeated discussions.”
Tramways reached an agreement with Admiralty protesters to unblock the Queensway section, and services to Happy Valley resumed on October 14.
But it said the occupation of Yee Woo Street in Causeway Bay had left 50 vehicles unable to return to the main repair depot in Whitty Street, Western District.
Contingency measures introduced yesterday allow part of the maintenance work to be done at a secondary depot in Sai Wan Ho.
The measures include using crane-equipped trucks to transport tram bogies to the Whitty Street site for detailed maintenance before carrying them back to Sai Wan Ho for installation.
Senior engineering manager Steven Chan Shih-Yao said the company had prepared for the move for 10 days, and that the work cost about HK$200,000.
But four trams still stood idle as they were in need of major repairs that could be done only at the Whitty Street depot
Vivant said the company had lost up to 55,000 passengers a day since the Occupy movement started in late September.
Before its Admiralty section reopened, the company was losing 45 per cent of its passengers, but this had been trimmed to 25 per cent, he said.
“Hong Kong Tramways pledges that safety will not be compromised in its effort in maintaining the best possible services,” its statement said.