Traversers and turntables at Hung Hom station

Hung Hom station is the southern terminus of the Kowloon Canton Railway, which also makes it the final destination of the ‘Intercity Through Trains’ which link Hong Kong to China.

China Railways electric locomotive SS8 0141 leads a consist of type 25T carriages

The majority of these services are made up of a single locomotive hauling a rake of carriages behind, which requires the locomotive to be moved to the other end of the train for the return journey.

Unlike most railway stations that provided a headshunt and run-around loop to enable this movement, the Hung Hom station site is very constrained, resulting in a series of dead end platforms with no additional tracks between them.

Hung Hom station track diagram

To work around the space constraints, when the current station opened in 1975 a traverser was installed to move locomotives sideways between adjacent tracks, releasing them from behind the carriages sitting in the platforms.

A turntable was also installed in the station yard to enable single ended locomotives to be turned around, placing the drivers cab facing the direction of travel.

This photo from the 1970s shows the turntable was located to the east of the locomotive shed near the ferry pier, with it remaining in place until at least 2008, as this photo of KCR locomotive #53 shows. With the introduction of locomotives with a cab at each end on most trains, the turntable was removed and today the site is occupied by the ‘Metropolis’ development.

As for the traverser, it is still in use today, though shortened to only serve platforms 5 through 7. Platforms 1 through 4 were modified back in 2004 when the East Rail line was extended south to East Tsim Sha Tsui Station, which converted platforms 2 and 3 into through platform.

Viewing the traverser is difficult, due to the high steel fence separating the secured international platforms from those used by normal MTR services. However from the south end of platform 4, the end of traverser can just be seen – here a China Railways SS8 electric locomotive is being moved sideways from the end of platform 5.

This photo by Steve McEvoy shows the traverser itself, viewed from inside the operating pit that it moves along.

Traverser at Hung Hom station (Steve McEvoy photo)

Above photo by Steve McEvoy

KCR staff nicknamed the traverser Deep Fried Crab (油炸蟹) with the name coming from its resemblance to the food item: the traverser deck being the shell, and the wheels being the crab legs.

Train terms

  • Traversers are a bridge that move sideways, transporting a rail vehicle sideways from one track to another.
  • Turntables spin around on the spot, allowing a locomotive to be turned around, or placed onto a track leading on an angle.
  • Run around loops allow a locomotive to move around a set of carriages, and then couple up to the other end.
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‘Keep Off The Tracks’ advertisement from the 1980s

Back in the early 1980s the Kowloon Canton Railway through Hong Kong underwent a massive transformation – from a single track country railway to the modern double mass transit system it is today.

It was during this period that the Hong Kong Government ran a series of public service announcements warning people to keep off the tracks.

Previously residents of the sparsely populated New Territories had used the railway tracks as a shortcut between local villages, and doing so without incident due to the slow and noisy diesel trains giving plenty of warning of their arrival. However the coming of the electric trains changed this, with their ability to sneak up silently yet speedily to anyone on the tracks.

Electrification of the line also added another risk – death by electrocution, due to the new high voltage overhead wires. The KCR placed signs along the railway warning of the hazards, through interestingly they lacked any English text.

Old KCR Warning Sign

Above photo by oriental.sweetlips on Flickr.

Further reading

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Three years of changes to Hong Kong transport

It has been three years since my last visit to Hong Kong, and in that time there has been a number of changes to local transport.

First off are new trains. Manufactured by Changchun Railway Vehicles in Mainland China, the first of these new C-Train units entered service on the Mass Transit Railway in 2011.

New 'C-Train' EMU in service on the MTR Kwun Tong line

New trams have also entered service on the Hong Kong Tramways. Known as the ‘Seventh Generation’ tramcars, the new units combine modern technology with the classic double deck tramcar look and feel that are a city icon.

'Seventh Generation' Hong Kong Tramways double deck car

Out in the New Territories the refurbishment of older light rail vehicles has also been carried out. In 2011 the MTR commenced the refurbishment of the Phase I units built by Comeng in Melbourne in 1988, and with their new fronts and livery, they now look similar to the newest Phase IV LRVs.

Phase I LRV on Castle Peak Road in Yuen Long

Cross-border Intercity Through Train services have also seen some changes. During my last visit the KTT was covered with an all over advertising livery for the 2010 Asian Games held in Guangzhou, China. Now is is back in the standard white, teal and blue livery.

MTR operated 'KTT' double deck train outside Sha Tin

China Railways have also changed the rolling stock used on their services into Hong Kong, with the older 25Z class carriages now replaced by those of the more luxurious 25T class. Presumably with the spread of the CRH high speed rail network across China has enabled the cascading down of carriage stock to other services.

China Railways electric locomotive SS8 0141 leads a consist of type 25T carriages

Stations on the Mass Transit Railway has also been modernised, with above ground stations on the Kwun Tong, Tsuen Wan and Island Lines finally being sealed off from the tracks, after being retrofitted with half-height ‘automatic platform gates’. The underground stations had been retrofitted with full height platform screen doors a number of years earlier.

Automatic platform gates in place at Ngau Tau Kok station

Ticketing system have also been updated, with the MTR starting to withdraw their existing magnetic-strip Single Journey Tickets from sale, replacing them with new ‘Smart Tickets‘ – an Octopus-style touch card that gets collected on exit.

MTR turnstiles partially converted to the new 'Single Journey Smart Tickets'

However the biggest changes are the construction of new railway lines – five of which are well underway.

The first is the Guangzhou–Shenzhen–Hong Kong Express Rail Link, which will being the CRH high speed railway network across the border from China into Hong Kong via a 26 kilometer long tunnel to the new West Kowloon Terminus. Located between Austin and Kowloon MTR stations, the massive new railway station will form a new gateway to the city from the mainland.

Cranes tower over a massive hole at the future West Kowloon Terminus

A new railway with more localised impacts is the Sha Tin to Central Link – it will extend the existing Ma On Shan line underground into Kowloon, then under Victoria Harbour to Hong Kong Island, with interchanges to other MTR lines at Diamond Hill, Ho Man Tin and Hung Hom stations.

Cranes and construction equipment at work on the Sha Tin to Central Link at Diamond Hill

The other three projects are the Kwun Tong Line extension, the West Island Line, and the South Island Line (East).

I wonder what changes will greet me on my next visit to Hong Kong?

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Helium balloons stopping trains

Hong Kong’s Mass Transit Railway tells passengers not to bring “dangerous or flammable goods or metallic balloons” into station areas and on trains. But what possible harm can a seemingly innocent balloon bring?

Chasing a balloon onto the tracks is a 'Dumb Way to Die'

Back in 1996 a balloon managed to shut down an entire railway line, as the South China Morning Post writes:

Rush-hour chaos may foil balloons on MTR
Friday, 01 March, 1996
By John Flint and and Michelle Chin

Children’s foil balloons may be outlawed in MTR stations after a rogue Minnie Mouse balloon floated into a tunnel and brought rush-hour traffic to a halt.

About 100,000 commuters were forced to wait in stations on the Island line after the helium-filled balloon tripped an electric current and burned through an overhead cable.

The incident happened at 6.46 am in Causeway Bay, bringing all trains between Admiralty and Quarry Bay to a standstill for 11/2 hours.

The Mass Transit Railway Corporation said it was considering a ban on the balloons particularly during festivals.

But that would force the company to hire security guards to take the balloons from children, it conceded.

Operations director Bill Donald said the corporation did not want a reputation as a kill-joy and would try to find a practical compromise.

He said runaway balloons caused hundreds of stoppages each year, including 10 during Lunar New Year. Yesterday’s was the only balloon to sever a power line, creating chaos and forcing emergency repairs.

Power is normally restored within minutes of a cable being short-circuited by a stray balloon – but MTR investigators suspect the latest culprit had an unusually tough skin.

‘Normally the balloons would be burned up by the overhead cables,’ Mr Donald said.

The investigation will examine whether metallic balloons are being made more durable.

Over in Sweden they have had similar incidents:

Helium balloon stops Malmö tunnel train
August 1, 2011

Passengers were left waiting for two hours before being evacuated from a Denmark-bound train on Sunday after a helium balloon caused a power outage in Malmö’s city tunnel.

Some 97 passengers were left sitting on the SJ X2000 train bound for Odense in Denmark on Sunday evening as technicians worked to solve the problem, after smoke was detected in the tunnel.

The source of the smoke was traced to a power outage caused by an errant helium balloon complete with a long ribbon which had got itself entangled in some power lines.

As has Melbourne, where a single balloon took out four railway lines:

Troubles balloon on the City Loop
November 29, 2012
By Adam Carey

Train chaos is easing after Metro removed the balloons that were caught in overhead wires between Flinders Street and Southern Cross stations, temporarily stalling four railway lines.

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Back from another visit to Hong Kong

It’s taken me three years, but I’ve finally made my way back to Hong Kong, having just returned from a two week visit. I also paid a visit to the mainland, visiting the cities of Shanghai, Beijing and Xian, along with a few journeys on the CRH high speed rail network.

China Railways high speed train at Zhengzhou East Railway Station

This time I took 19,116 photos during my three weeks overseas – almost twice as many as my 2010 trip, or about the same as my month long visit to Europe in 2012.

Hopefully I’ll get all of my photos uploaded before my next overseas jaunt!

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