Hong Kong’s ‘Intercity Through Train’

After taking a journey on a MTR train along the East Rail line, now it is time to see some real trains! The “Intercity Through Train” service is jointly operated by the MTR Corporation of Hong Kong and the Chinese Ministry of Railways, with the trains running express from Hung Hom station in Hong Kong to various cities in China.

Customs and border control formalities are carried out before boarding the train, with the entrance to the intercity platforms at Hong Hom station resembling an airport.

Border control checkpoint at Hung Hom station for Through Train passengers

The platforms themselves are enclosed with wire fences, presumably so potential immigrants jumping onto a train in China can’t avoid the Hong Kong immigration checkpoint at the exit of the station!

Wire fences around the Through Train platforms at Hung Hom station

The same applies to the railway entrance, with security gates ready to close off the tracks once a train arrives into the station.

Security gates around the Through Train platforms at Hung Hom station

The most frequent intercity service is the “Guangdong Through Train”, which runs to the city of Guangzhou, around 1 hour and 50 minutes one way from Hong Kong; with some services extended to Zhaoqing, which is 4 hours from Hong Kong. The rolling stock for this service is provided by both rail operators.

The MTR contributes the single “Ktt” train set, a pair of electric locomotives operating in push-pull with a consist of double deck carriages. The train was built in 1997: I find the existence of a single unique train set rather odd, but I assume the KCR thought it through when they made the purchase. The Ktt runs are specifically mentioned on the public timetable, with both premium (‘better than first’) and first class travel available to passengers.

The pair of locomotives are based on the SBB-CFF-FFS Re 460 class of the Swiss Federal Railways, while the carriages were built by Kinki Sharyo of Japan to an design of unknown origin. Normal operations see 7 to 8 carriages in use, of the total of 12 carriages having been built for the train: the spare carriages are stabled in the Ho Tung Lau Depot at Sha Tin. During my visit in 2010 the entire train set was covered in advertisements for the Guangzhou Asian Games.

Southbound KTT between Fo Tan and Sha Tin stations

The remainder of the Guangdong Through Train services are operated with China Railways rolling stock by the Guangshen Railway, a Chinese state-owned enterprise. The SS8 class electric locomotives are the usual motive power, hauling a 10-car consist of “25Z” class carriages, capable of travelling at 160 km/h. Both the locomotive and carriages are at most 15 years old, with only one class of travel available: “soft seat” in the China Railways system, which is called first class elsewhere.

SS8 0186 southbound between Sheung Shui and Fanling

The consist has a power van at the north end, a luggage van at the south end, then seven sitting cars and a dining car somewhere in the middle. The carriages have a white livery with a blue band down the middle of the carbody, and a red stripe below the window line; and a grey roof.

Electric locomotive SS8 0191 hauls a Through Train through Sha Tin station

Apart from the SS8 electric locomotives, the older DF11 diesel electrics occasionally appear on the train – I spotted them three times during my visit, of the 20-or-so through trains I saw.

Chinese diesel hauling a northbound Through Train

The other intercity rail service in Hong Kong is the sleeping trains to Beijing and Shanghai, which take 23 hours and 20 hours respectively to reach Hong Kong. These services run once a day but to alternating destinations: with the Beijing train leaving on odd days, and the Shanghai train leaving on the evens, at least until there is a month with an odd number of days, when they swaps over. Confused yet – the MTR need to keep a timetable on their website with just “odd” / “even” on it!

The same SS8 electric locomotives haul the Beijing and Shanghai trains, but long distance “25T” class carriage stock is used instead, with sleeping cars instead of sitters. The main spotting feature of the stock is the side skirts under the carbody.

Almost at the end of a 24 hour journey, SS8 0186 leads the Beijing Express towards Hung Hom

For those interesting in photographing the train, timekeeping of the services is rather touch and go: with the much longer journeys, there is much more opportunity for time to be lost along the way.

None the less, the express running of the through trains still needs to fit between the usual MTR services on the East Rail line. To achieve this overtaking moves can occur at stations with multiple platforms, such as this run through at Sha Tin station.

Through Train overtaking a MTR train at Sha Tin station

The non stop trains are still displayed on the platform indicators at MTR station, with a warning displayed to ensure passengers stand clear. Despite alternating between the English and Chinese version of whatever is on screen, you don’t need to be able to read Chinese to pick the warnings out: “Non Stopping Train” is the only one that uses five characters on one line.

The Chinese version of "Non Stopping Train" on the display

Whoever thought you could combine railway photography with a foreign language lesson?

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9 Responses to Hong Kong’s ‘Intercity Through Train’

  1. Pingback: A quick guide to Chinese railway carriages | Checkerboard Hill

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  3. Alan says:

    The KTT train was actually ordered as 2 seperate set of trains with a locomotive and around 4 carriages as a set, but then the KCR (Railway operator before the merger) decided to couple them together to form one set of train apparently given the number of passengers. An interesting fact to note is that as per Chapter 558B Mass Transit By-Law prohibits the direct discharge from toilets onto its tracks after the electrification in 1982, toilets on Chinese trains (most of the older models discharge directly onto the tracks) are locked in the Hong Kong Section. As far as I know, only KTT has holding tanks onboard which allows the use of toilet facilities in the HK section

    • Marcus says:

      Running the KTT as two separate trains is an interesting one: presumably back then less people were catching the train, and the KCR might have been thinking that China Railways would have less involvement in running through trains.

      I can only imagine how nasty smelling it would smell if a train with drop chute toilets dropping their waste right in the middle of Kowloon Tong station!

  4. Alan says:

    Not surprisingly, the HK section uses a different technical standard for its overhead power lines compared to its mainland counterparts. Soon after the introduction of Chinese electric locomotives running the cross-boarder service, KCR (the former operator) denied the Chinese electric locomotive access to its tracks on the grounds that the pantograph is not compatible with its system causing excessive wear to its grids. During those periods, the diesel service resumed with the exception of the KTT This problem was resolved when they decided to use the KTT pantograph which was designed for both systems.

    • Marcus says:

      Given that the KCR section was electrified with the involvement of the British Rail consulting firm Transmark, I wouldn’t be surprised if they chose the same type of pantographs as used over in the UK – the first EMUs were also made by Metro Cammell.

      I wonder what year the Chinese commissioned their first 25 kV AC electrification system, how far it got to the border with Hong Kong, and whether it predated the KCR modernisation works. I would have through that if the Chinese already had a electric railway operating on their side, then something compatible should have been chosen for the Hong Kong side.

  5. Alan says:

    KCR didn’t expected the popularity of its trains, but obviously they are wrong. And no, thought historically when the KCR was opened in 1911, most rolling stocks were HK rolling stocks. But when the service resumed in 1975, all rolling stocks are provided by China Railways. It wasn’t until the KCR (Chinese Section) was electricfied in 1998 that the KTT is introduced (the only HK rolling stock serving the international route). Presumably KCR wanted more share of the service’s profit.

    Even after 14 years in service, KTT still remains a top-class train in modern standard, especially when the service is ran along with its Chinese counterpart @ the same price.
    Sadly though, KTT has seen increasing numbers of break-downs due to the lack of time for service. (originally ran as 2 sets, then 3 return lags per day till 5 returns a day currently) It is expected that the MTR will not replace the KTT should it be dis commissioned since this service account for only a little revenue. Take your time to have a ride before it gets withdrawn

  6. Alan says:

    Apparently KCR did not expected its popularity. It ran as 2 sets at the begining, then as 1 set doing 3 returns a day, then to 5 returns a day now. This has made it too busy for service and has seen an increasing number of breakdowns due to lack of maintenance. Given KTT still being a top-of-the-line train in modern days standard despite 14 years of service especially when it charges the same price with its Chinese counterpart. It is predicted that MTR will not replace the train should it be discommissioned since the service only accounted for minimal percentage of its revenue. If you have time, take a ride on it before it gets withdrew. (Even if it did, it would probably be a “cheapy”)

    BTW, though most of the rolling stock was HK-based when the KCR first opened in 1911, Chinese Railways had always provided all rolling stock since the passengers service resumed in 1975 (freight service exchanged locos in Lo Wu Marshaling Yard)

    By the way, KCR(BS) was electrified in 1982 (at least thz when the new Beacon Hill Tunnel was opened for this purpose) and the KTT was only introduced after KCR (Chinese Section) finished electrification in 1998. The electrification in Chinese section is wired right to the border with HK to Shenzhen Station (immediately north to the border)

  7. Pingback: Three years of changes to Hong Kong transport - Checkerboard Hill

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