‘Paid Passageway Validators’ at MTR stations

There are many interchange stations on Hong Kong’s MTR, but the connection between the Tuen Ma and Tsuen Wan lines at Mei Foo has something no other MTR stations have – ‘Paid Passageway Validators’.

Mei Foo station

Most MTR stations have interchange passageways inside the paid area, and Mei Foo is no different.

Tsuen Wan line end of the transfer passageway at Mei Foo station

Once a MTR/KCR interchange station, the design of the station is rather complicated.

With parallel paid and unpaid walkways between the two halves of the station.

Enter the ‘Paid Passageway Validator’

I first discovered the Paid Passageway Validators on Chinese-language Wikipedia.

Due to the design of the station, exit G of Mei Foo station is not connected to the other unpaid areas. Residents living near exit G who want to go to Mei Foo Sun Chuen or Mount Sterling Mall either have to take pass through the paid area and be charged the minimum fare for the MTR, or detour around the station.

In 2017 the MTR added two “Paid Passageway Validators” in the station, allowing residents with Octopus cards to pass through the station paid area for free to and from any exit at Mei Foo station, as long as they tap their Octopus card and exit within 20 minutes. The gate will not be charged any fees.

A MTR media release dated 9 January 2017 describes their operation.

Installation of Paid Passageway Validators at Mei Foo Station to Provide Free Access Through Paid Area

To provide a more convenient way for customers, two Paid Passageway Validators will be put on a trial at Mei Foo Station starting from 18 January 2017, offering 20-minutes of free access for customers to move through the Mei Foo Station between different entrances and exits.

Mei Foo Station is an interchange station for Tsuen Wan Line and West Rail Line. The unpaid areas of both lines, however, are not fully connected. The installation of the validators in paid area of the West Rail Line concourse near Entrance G will provide a free access for local residents moving around the area. Customers can simply tap their Octopus on the validator and exit the paid area of the station within 20 minutes of their entry.

“We always strive for continuous improvements to provide the community with more convenient services. In view of the needs of local residents, we are introducing Paid Passageway Validators at Mei Foo Station as a trial so as to allow them to travel around the area by using the sheltered and air-conditioned connection through the paid area of the station, particularly between Entrance G and other entrances,” said Mr Alan Cheng, Head of Operating – South Region of MTR Corporation.

Station staff will be deployed to provide assistance to customers to get familiar with the new facilities in the initial period after the launch.

And this tweet shows their location in relation to the rest of the station.

And deployment elsewhere?

Central Station and Hong Kong Station are also connected by a long passageway inside the paid area, only usable by MTR passengers.

Part of the travelator link between Central and Hong Kong stations

A situation that the Central & Western District Council would like to see resolved by the provision of Paid Passageway Validators.

The MTR Corporation responded.

MTR Central Station and Hong Kong Station are among the busiest stations in the network, especially during the busy hours in the morning and evening

At that time, the passenger flow in and out of the two stations and the transfer line was very high, so the corporation must consider whether “Paid Passageway Validators” will affect the flow of people at the station, especially when using the station during peak hours, and arrangements for the evacuation of passengers in emergency situations to ensure the safety of passengers.

Currently, Central Station has a non-paid channel connecting Chater Gardens and World Wide Building. Citizens in need can use this non-paid channel to travel to and from these places. In addition, there are many pedestrians in the area flyovers are connected to major buildings, and citizens can also use these flyovers to conveniently travel between Central Station and Hong Kong Station

Whampoa station also has two separate sets of exits, only connected via the platform.

Leading the Kowloon City District Council to make a similar request for Paid Passageway Validators.

The Hon Starry Lee hoped that MTRCL would install Paid Passageway Validators at all lobbies not linked together at the station and included it as an established policy.

Ms Yeung Lee-wah, Public Relations Manager – External Affairs of MTR Corporation Limited reply as follows: Mei Foo Station was a major interchange station of Tsuen Wan Line and West Rail Line. The unpaid area of the two lines were not linked. In considering enhancement of station facilities, the company needed to take into account whether the facilities would affect the flow of passengers and the evacuation of passengers in emergencies in order to ensure safety of passengers. The company would need to monitor the usage situation and then conduct a review. At present, it did not have any plan to install the same facility at other station. As a matter of fact, the two exits of Whampoa Station were close to each other and passengers could use above-ground facilities to commute between various exits;

The Hon Starry Lee understood that MTRCL needed to review the effectiveness of the Paid Passageway Validators run on trial basis before making a decision on whether to install the same facilities at other stations with non-linking lobbies. She hoped that after reviewing its effectiveness, MTRCL could take the initiative to install Paid Passageway Validators at all non-linking lobbies.

Mr Ho Hin-ming opined that it was not reasonable that the decision of not to install Paid Passageway Validators at the station was made just because of passengers of Whampoa Station could use other exits on the road surface. In addition, he enquired how long it would take MTRCL to study the pedestrian flow of Whampoa Station in order to determine the installation of Paid Passageway Validators.

Mr Admond Yue said that as a public organisation, MTRCL should follow sound advice and proactively consider the installation of Paid Passageway Validators at Whampoa Station to facilitate the use of passengers.

Mr Siu Leong-sing enquired when the trial scheme of Paid Passageway Validators installed at Mei Foo Station would finish.

Ms Lilian YEUNG of MTR Corporation Limited noted Members’ opinions that in enhancing the facilities of other MTR Stations, Paid Passageway Validators shall be installed at the non-linking lobbies of other stations. She would relay Members’ opinions to departments concerned.

And the opposite situation

East Tsim Sha Tsui and Tsim Sha Tsui stations have the opposite situation to Mei Foo – the only connection is via the unpaid area.

Moving walkways in the corridor linking East Tsim Sha Tsui and Tsim Sha Tsui stations

Which saw special ticketing rules out in place to prevent interchange passengers from being overcharged.

Touchscreen MTR single journey ticket machine

Further reading

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Hong Kong’s road-rail fire trucks

Hong Kong’s Fire Services Department has a diverse fleet of firefighting apparatus that can handle any situation, and today I’m looking at their ‘Road Rail Fire Appliances’.

This pair of fire trucks can operate on either road and rail, and were acquired in 2015 at a cost of HK$22 million to handle incidents on the Hong Kong section of the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong high-speed rail line.

Hong Kong Fire Services Department video

They have been deployed to the Pat Heung Fire Station, a short distance from the Shek Kong emergency rescue station, which provides vehicle access into the 26 kilometre long tunnel.

MTR Corporation photo

Built by Austrian firerighting equipment supplier manufacturer Rosenbauer, they had this to say on the versatile vehicles.

It is the largest underground rail station in the world, currently being built in Hong Kong. It is the start and end point of the high-speed section to Guangzhou. Trains travel at up to 350 km/h (217 mph), often in tunnels that are miles long. These challenges demand sophisticated solutions: two speciality firefighting vehicles were developed for this area.

The range of applications of both vehicle firefighting specialities are really not short of superlatives. The 26 km section in Hong Kong’s special economic zone runs completely underground. Only when it reaches the Chinese mainland does the train line emerge on the surface again. When the trains leave the largest underground station in the world, shortly afterwards they reach speeds of up to 350 km/h. The new track also holds many new challenges for the security forces of the Hong Kong Fire Service Department. Their response to this situation was the acquisition of two railway trucks (RLF 3000/100/100 rail).

The peculiarity of the speciality vehicles is the rail travel device. Thanks to the sophisticated technology, the vehicle can be quickly converted from road to rail. Thus, it is also possible to rapidly get close to a possible accident site that would not be reachable by road. Since taking delivery of both vehicles, special training has been on the agenda for the emergency crews in Hong Kong. The focus is on railing and de-railing, and naturally driving on the rails. Even on rails, the speciality firefighting vehicles reach speeds of up to 60 km/h (37 mph). Not just that steering is not possible on rails, but also the braking and acceleration behaviour is completely different than on the road. The special training should be completed by the time the high-speed rail section is ready.

However, not just driving on rails is a special challenge. Since the section in the operational area of the Hong Kong Fire Service Department runs exclusively underground, the scenario of a tunnel fire plays a prominent role. The equipment of the vehicles take this situation with huge build-ups of smoke and heat into account: On both sides of the vehicle, two FANERGY E21 tunnel fans can be continuously swivelled out. This allows not just the tunnel to be ventilated and made smoke-free in a short time, but a cooling fog is also discharged.

For firefighting operations, both vehicles are of course equipped with corresponding firefighting equipment. The combined normal and high pressure pump NH 55 can also be activated during while driving. So you can start extinguishing with the RM15C bumper turret while on the move. The rapid intervention hose reels can also be used for extinguishing – with both normal and high pressure. A 3,000 l water tank and two foam compound agent tanks which each hold 100 l ensure the supply of extinguishing agents.

Both railway trucks are furnished with corresponding lighting for rail operation. Reversing and front section cameras greatly simplify driving on the rails. In addition, both vehicles are fitted with infrared thermal imaging cameras (front and rear) as well as a gas-detecting device.

The operating area of both fire fighting vehicles is very varied and brings many challenges with it. With both these speciality vehicles, the fire department is well equipped for such difficult operations.

Facts and figures

The two Road Rail Fire Appliances have slightly different fitouts – unit F7001 is fitted out as a pumper and has a 3000 litre water tank, while F7002 carries 1500 litres of water alongside additional rescue equipment.

The data sheet by manufacturer Rosenbauer has further details:

› Type: Scania P 360 CB 6×4 HSZ
› Engine: DC 13 06 EGR Euro 5
› Engine output: 265 kW / 360 hp at 1,600 RPM
› Gearbox: Allison HD 4500 with retarder
› Wheelbase: 4,900 + 1,350 mm

▪ Rail travel device
› Type: Zweiweg LOCTRAC ZW 332
› Hydrostatic drive with lifting and lowering device for 1,435 mm rail gauge
› Top speed: 60 km/h

▪ Driving compartment
› Crew: 1 + 7
› Original Scania twin cab with four seats in the direction of travel and two against the direction of travel. All seats are equipped with SCBA units (each 2 x 6 l 300 bar).
› Air-conditioner

▪ Extinguishing agent tank
› Water tank: 3,000 l
› Foam tank 1: 100 l Class A
› Foam tank 2: 100 l Class B

▪ Extinguishing system
› Type: Rosenbauer NH 55, combined normal and high pressure pump
› Normal pressure output: 5,000 l/min at 10 bar
› High pressure output: 400 l/min at 40 bar
› Pump pressure governor
› Pump operation with simultaneous driving operation

▪ Bumper turret
› Type: Rosenbauer RM15C
› Electronically controlled monitor
› Output: max. 1,500 l/min at 10 bar
› CAFS operation via monitor

▪ Other equipment
› NP and HP rapid intervention hose reels
› Electrical cable winch DC 34.9
› Reversing camera and rear drive camera
› Front and rear forward-looking infrared camera
› Gas-detecting device with 4 detectors
› LED lighting
› 4 rear parking sensors with digital indicator
› Illumination for rail operation
› Rosenbauer EPS built-in generator 60 kVA
› 4 Rosenbauer FANERGY E21 tunnel fans with water spray insert, 2 on the left and 2 on the right, stepless swivel, electric roller shutters in equipment compartments 1 and 2, control in the driver’s cab
› Display for pump control in the driver’s cab in rear with its own hinged lid

In model form

Do you have HK$1,680 burning a hole in your pocket? You can get an incredibly detailed 1/43 scale model of F7001 or F7002 by Aurora Design.

Aurora Design photo

Footnote – the LUF 60 firefighting robot

The Fire Services Department has another appliance they can deploy to tunnel fires.

Hong Kong Fire Services Department photo

The LUF 60 firefighting robot.

The LUF 60R is a diesel engine propelled, radio controlled, tracked firefighting unit mounted with a powerful 35kw ventilator. It is adjustable up to 30 degree, with 360 built-in nozzles to yield a water-fog beam that can reach 60m. It can reach the fire source (if necessary by remote control) in road/rail tunnels, basements or other enclosed building compartments, using the high volume water fog to reduce the high ambient temperature and the fire intensity to allow firefighting and rescue teams to approach safely.

Their two units have been deployed to Sheung Wan and Shek Kip Mei Fire Stations to handle railway tunnel fires on the MTR network.

Being transported to the incident site by a medium sized truck.

Further reading

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Rebranding a hotel

A few years ago I received a curious email after my visit to Hong Kong – an invitation to review the Travelodge Hotel in Kowloon, despite never having stayed there. After a moment of thought, I realised why I got the email – I had stayed there, but the hotel has just changed brands!

Concrete wall where Diocesan Girls' School faces the neighbourhood

Google Street View to the rescue!

This July 2011 view of the hotel shows it was called the ‘Chung Hing Hotel’.

In 2013 the hotel was sold to Tai Hung Fai Group, who rebranded it as ‘Rainbow Hotel’, targeting it at solo Mainland Chinese tourists.

But a few years later they changed their mind, deciding to partner with Travelodge Hotels Asia, and rebranding the hotel a second time in February 2017 – ‘Travelodge Kowloon’.

And the time of my visit to Hong Kong – September 2016.

Further reading

Ramsey Qubein over at NerdWallet has an interesting piece describing what happens when a hotel switches brands – it’s quite an exercise in logistics!

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Foreign flag carriers and flights to Taiwan

Taiwan’s relationship with Mainland China is a complicated one, and the dispute has spilled out into the world of aviation, after the People’s Republic of China objected to the flag carriers of foreign governments serving what they regarded as a breakaway province. The result – a slew of subsidiary airlines that just fly to the island nation.

KLM Asia

KLM established KLM Asia in 1995 to operate flights to Taipei and still operates today.

It uses the the same livery as the parent airline, but without Dutch national symbols such as the flag of the Netherlands and KLM’s stylised Dutch Crown logo.

Air France Asie

Air France Asie and Air France Cargo Asie were established by Air France in 1998 to operate a route to Taipei. Air France Asie ceased operations in 2004 along with the route, with Air France Cargo Asie following in 2007.

Their livery replaces the usual red strip of the French tricolour with a blue strip in the same colour as the other blue lines.

British Asia Airways

British Asia Airways was established by British Airways in 1993 to operate flights between London and Taipei via Hong Kong. It ceased operations in 2001 following suspension of the route.

The standard British Airways livery had the Union Flag tailfin replaced by the Chinese characters 英亞 (Hanyu Pinyin: Yīng Yà; literally “British Asia”).

Australia Asia Airlines

Australia Asia Airlines was established by Qantas in 1990 to operate services between Australia and Taiwan. It was wound up in 1996 following the privatisation of Qantas.

The kangaroo logo on the standard Qantas livery was replaced by a dynamic ribbon, and the Flag of Australia removed.

Japan Asia Airways

Japan Asia Airways was established by Japan Airlines (JAL) in 1975 to operate air services between Japan and Taiwan, after the parent airline was given approval to operate direct flights to Mainland China. Privatisation of the parent airline and a new Japan-Taiwan air transport agreement in 2007 saw the airline merged into the parent in 2008.

The airline used liveries similar to that of parent Japan Airlines, but without national symbols.

Swissair Asia

Swissair Asia was established by Swissair in 1995 to operate a route between Zurich and Taipei via Bangkok. The airline folded in 2002 along with the parent company.

The livery featured the Chinese character “瑞” (ruì, from the Chinese translation of Switzerland, “瑞士” (Ruìshì), on the tail fin instead of the standard Swiss cross.

The reverse – Mandarin Airlines

During the 1990s the People’s Republic of China also objected to Taiwanese flag carrier China Airlines serving foreign countries, triggering trade disputes with Australia and Canada. Their solution in 1991 was the establishment of subsidiary Mandarin Airlines, operating flights to Sydney, Brisbane and Vancouver.

This situation remained until 1995, when China Airlines adopted a new “plum blossom” livery, dropping their Republic of China flag and downplaying their Taiwanese connection, which enabled the parent company to re-establish international routes.

Mandarin Airlines still operates today, but as a regional airline serving both domestic and international routes in and out of Taiwan.

And flights to Mainland China

Flights from Mainland China to Taiwan are now common, but they aren’t domestic or international – they leave from the “International, HK, Macao and Taiwan Departures” terminal.

'International & Hong Kong / Macau / Taiwan Departures' sign at Xi'an Airport

And arriving passengers from Taiwan don’t pass through passport control, but obtain a “Travel Document for Taiwan Residents” on arrival.

'Travel Document for Taiwan Residents' sign on arrival in China

Clear as mud?

Further reading

Foreign relations of Taiwan and air lines at Wikipedia.

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Ventilation shafts across the MTR network

With a massive network of railway tunnels passing beneath Hong Kong, the MTR requires a plethora of ventilation shafts to supply fresh air to passengers underground, and remove smoke in an emergency situation.

MTR train approaches Sheung Wan Station

Early years of brutalism

Ventilation shafts built as part of the first stage of the MTR were often brutalist structures co-located with station entrances, like this shaft at Shek Kip Mei.

Shau Kei Wan.

Entry to the MTR at Shau Kei Wan station

Pitt Street in Yau Ma Tei.

Man Ming Lane in Yau Ma Tei.

Wong Tai Sin.

Lung Cheung Road in Wong Tai Sin, Hong Kong

And North Point.

But ventilation structures were also placed away from stations if required, such as this example near Choi Hung.

MTR tunnel ventilation structure on Choi Hing Road

One on the Tsim Sha Tsui waterfront, serving the cross harbour tunnel.

Hong Kong Museum of Art on Victoria Harbour, alongside the MTR tunnel ventilation stack

Which is paired with a second structure on the Hong Kong Island side at Wan Chai.

MTR South Ventilation Building on the harbourfront at Wan Chai

A more sculptural design was also used at highly visible locations along the Island Line, such as Harcourt Garden for Admiralty Station.

And outside the Western Market for Sheung Wan Station.

And today

The construction of the Lantau Airport Railway in the 1990s saw a stylish structure erected at West Kowloon to serve the harbour tunnel.

MTR ventilation structure at West Kowloon

East Tsim Sha Tsui station has a shaft on Kowloon Park Drive.

Ventilation structure for East Tsim Sha Tsui station on Kowloon Park Drive

West Rail through Kowloon has a ventilation tower at Hung Hom.

West Rail ventilation tower at Hung Hom

Along with a larger structure on Canton Road.

MTR West Rail ventilation structure on Canton Road

An even bigger one in Yau Ma Tei.

And this massive structure at Kwai Fong – a combined traction power substation and ventilation building.

The Lok Ma Chau Spur Line has another massive structure atop the ghost station of Kwu Tung.

As does the South Island Line at the southern portal of the Nam Fung Tunnel.

But much less noticeable is the ventilation shaft at the Admiralty end, beside Hong Kong Park.

Ventilation shaft for Admiralty station beside Hong Kong Park

This theme of hidden ventilation structures continues at Tung Chung station.

Tung Chung: where is the railway station?

Sai Ying Pun.

Sai Ying Pun Exit A1

And Whampoa Station.

A space for art

Sometimes ventilation structures are turned into a feature – like the artwork ‘Sense of Green’ by Tony Ip at Admiralty Station.

Which moves in the wind.

Situated on the southern bank of Victoria Harbour in the heart of Harcourt Garden, Sense of Green is a multi-purpose sculpture that is inspired by and dedicated to the movement of air.

Externally, it comprises of several hundred bamboo-like poles that stand in the prevailing wind. As the wind increases in speed, the poles flex and bend to become stronger. The contrasting colours of the poles reflect their exposure to the wind, the paler the colour, the more frequent it has been touched by the wind.

Internally, the sculpture conceals a ventilation shaft for MTR Admiralty Station below. When viewed from the surrounding high-rise buildings above, the sculpture takes on yet another dimension – that of a super-sized potted plant that sits within the garden.

With many wanting a similar treatment applied to a ventilation structure in Tsim Sha Tsui.

You have to question why the government or the MTR have not seen fit to repaint the monstrous ventilation shaft along the newly reopened Avenue of Stars, which completely ruins everything.

I can’t believe they had close to four years to repaint it (with an epic Bruce Lee image, perhaps) during the revamp of the promenade. They should have let a street artist loose on it. It makes you wonder whether any senior government official has actually set foot on the Avenue of Stars. It is kind of hard not to notice the ventilation shaft.

Given the amount of money spent on revitalising the Avenue of Stars and given that millions of people will visit it over the coming months, I am surprised no one has raised this issue with the concerned authorities.

Readers of the SCMP offering a number of suggestions.

The need for it to be fixed up has been identified for quite some time. The MTR has yet to be forthcoming with a plan and budget for upgrading the exterior of the shaft. The simplest solution would be a lick of paint.

In the past, banners used to be displayed on the shaft, announcing arts and cultural events in the adjacent venues. So maybe the MTR is waiting for a proposal from the Leisure and Cultural Services Department. Instead of disposable banners, the vent shaft could be wrapped with an electronic billboard for such announcements. Or maybe the MTR is waiting for other people’s money and hopes New World Development will offer to hire an artist to turn the vent shaft into a large sculpture.

Or maybe it is the recent preoccupation with finding construction records that has delayed some other cool ideas the MTR has for expressing its corporate social responsibility and turning the vent shaft into a memorable moment for visitors to the Tsim Sha Tsui waterfront. Whatever happens, rest assured we will all surely see it.

Moving air through the tunnels

Massive fans are the most important part of a ventilation structure.

Heather Coulson photo, HKU Library HC-17-014

Along with the control system that drives them.

Monitored from the station control room.

Station control room at Admiralty

As well as the MTR Operations Control Centre at Tsing Yi.

MTR photo

Ready for any emergency.

The tunnel ventilation system can adjust the flow of air outside the train when the train catches fire. According to the location of the fire alarm, the control centre will decide to change the two sets of ventilating fans on the latest train to smoke exhaust (Pull) and exhaust (Push) modes.

The convective effect produced by it will create a flow of air that once moved at a rate of about 8 kilometres per hour, blowing thick smoke in the opposite direction from the passenger evacuation route, allowing passengers to reach the nearest emergency exit as soon as possible.

Property development

The Yau Tong Ventilation Building serves the Tseung Kwan O Line, and in 2018 the MTR Corporation sold the land atop it to a developer for HK$1.515 billion (US$193 million), who will build a 500 apartment tower on the site.

MTR photo

And an interesting impact on train operations

Running a frequent train service depends on many things, but one I didn’t consider is the tunnel ventilation system – the ‘MTR Service Update’ blog has the full story.

Under normal circumstances, the piston effect of the train will drive the air in the tunnel. However when the train is stopped between two stations for more than about two minutes, a large fan in the ventilation building will be activated.

Through the ventilation openings near the top of the tunnel or at the bottom of the platform, heat from the air conditioners and various equipment on the train roof will be taken away. The system will maintain the temperature in the tunnel not higher than 35 degrees, to prevent the air conditioner from being able to dissipate heat in the car.

However, tunnels passing under Victoria Harbour were constructed in caissons, with limited space inside the tunnel, making it difficult to build additional air ducts for ventilation fans. Therefore, one direction of the tunnel can only accommodate one or two trains at the same time. Longer distance tunnels, such as the Chau Tau Tunnel between Sheung Shui and Lok Ma Chau Station, have the same restrictions.

The signal system will also prevent the third train from entering the tunnel, and the train captain will broadcast a “train service blocked” message to inform passengers that there is still time to enter and exit the carriages. The Beacon Hill Tunnel between Kowloon Tong and Tai Wai Station has increased in frequency from 15 trains per hour in the single direction (at the beginning of the electrification of trains) to the current 24 trains, after additional ventilation facilities were added.

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