35th anniversary of the MTR Light Rail

September 2023 marks the 35th anniversary of the opening of the Light Rail system in the New Territories, with the MTR Corporation marking the occasion with a ‘retro livery’ light rail vehicle, and a public open day at the Light Rail depot.

MTR photo

Phase I LRV 1066 was repainted into the original orange and white KCR Light Rail livery, which it wore when it first started service, being unveiled to the public at Siu Hong Stop on 20 August 2023.

MTR photo

Local media also covering the event:

A large crowd was seen in Tuen Mun on Sunday as a retro-themed Light Rail train debuted and greeted passengers under a series of 35th-anniversary celebratory activities.

Light Rail has been serving the Northwest New Territories districts as a major mode of transport for over three decades. To celebrate its anniversary, the MTR Corporation put two retro-themed Light Rail Vehicles into service.

The train’s livery relives the classic orange and white color combination with orange seats, bringing back memories of the original Phase 1 Light Rail Vehicles when they started service in 1988.

One of them was showcased at Tuen Mun Light Rail Depot Stop and Siu Hong Station on Sunday, attracting many rail fans to catch a glimpse.

A rail fanatic surnamed Tse, who was emigrating soon, came to watch the unveiling of the light rail with friends. He said the retro vehicle was relatively close to the original one, except for minor details such as the paint, handles, writing, etc.

Wong, who came here with his family of three, said he had lived in Sheung Shui since he was young but had never seen the light rail train in orange color.

The first retro-themed light rail vehicle will start running on Route 610 on Monday, and the other one will be ready for service next month.

The open day at the Light Rail depot was held on 17 September, and saw all five models of light rail vehicle on display to the public.

Photo by The Standard

Further viewing

A tour of ‘retro livery’ Phase I LRV 1066 by SF’s Rail Depot:

And joined by second retro liveried unit Phase I LRV 1001.

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Farewell to the MTR fleet of EMD diesel-electric locomotives

From their first unit acquired in the 1950s, the Kowloon Canton Railway eventually operated a fleet of 12 EMD diesel-electric locomotives – but following electrification of the line in the 1980s, and the demise of rail freight in 2010, they have seen little use. This is the story of their later years.

Locomotive 59 at Ho Tung Lau Depot

First retirements

The oldest and lowest powered EMU locomotives in the fleet was the five G12 units. By the late-1990s they had been withdrawn from service, with class leader #51 was restored and placed into the Hong Kong Railway Museum.

Crowds at at Hong Kong Railway Museum

While the other four units were sold to Chicago Freight Car Leasing Australia (CFCLA) and loaded onto an Australian-bound ship at Hung Hom in October 2005.

Tai Wah Sea & Land Heavy Transportation photo

Accident damage

In 2009 G16 locomotive #57 suffered a major mechanical failure and was withdrawn from service, and was eventually scrapped in November 2014 at the Lo Wu marshalling yard.

Then in Marh 2018 G16 classmates #59 and #60 collided during overnight trackwork on the East Rail Line between Tai Wo and Fanling Stations. #60 was able to be repaired, but the frame of #59 was damaged, so the locomotive was scrapped at Lo Wu in March 2021.

hkitalk.net photo

With the pieces trucked away to a scrap yard in the New Territories.

Photo by Sordiu Edmond

And what next

With the introduction of the new Trainguard MT CBTC signaling system on the East Rail Line, it was decided not to upgrade the aging fleet of ex-KCR diesel locomotives to suit, and in February 2021 the MTR Corporation announced that the last five EMD diesel locomotives would be disposed of – G16 locomotives #56 and #58; and G26 #60, #61 and #62.

Prequalification for Sale of Diesel Locomotives

Contract No.: Q082835

These Diesel Locomotives have reached the end of service life and will be retired in 2021.

Corporation is open to consider various feasible means/methods for resale of Diesel Locomotives. The Corporation will also consider any feasible community service plans or environmental initiatives utilizing the retired Diesel Locomotives. Interested companies and entities are welcome to register according to the instructions below.

MTR Corporation Limited invites potential buyers to express their interest to buy four diesel locomotives plus another one locomotive as an option.

Successful contractor shall provide all resources including labour, tools, equipment, and transportation as necessary for the safe execution of collection / transportation of those diesel locomotives from Lo Wu Marshalling Yard or Ho Tung Lau Depot which in compliance with relevant F&IU, Environmental Regulations in HKSAR and other In-house Requirements set out by the Corporation.

The prequalification process for the tender will take place in March 2021 and tenders will be invited in April 2021.

On 9 February 2021 the five locomotives were transferred to the goods yard at Sha Tin, awaiting their fate.

MTR G16 diesel locomotive at Sha Tin Station
Photo by Cyril Yoshi

And then a surprise – in March 2022 it was announced that G26 #60 would be retained by the MTR Corporation, being returned to the Lo Wu locomotive depot for preservation.

Further viewing

Video by 鐵流 Railic HK on the retirement of the MTR’s EMD diesel-electric locomotive fleet.

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Hong Lok Yuen – suburbia in Hong Kong

This might look like a random slice of American suburbia.

Hong Lok Yuen NT Hong Kong, 1992
Photo by ‘Charles’ on Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

With streets of cookie-cutter Mediterranean-style detached houses.

Hong Lok Yuen, New Territories, Hong Kong from air in 1991
Photo by ‘Charles’ on Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

With no tall buildings in sight.

Hong Kong: Hong Lok Yuen and Tai Po 1992
Photo by ‘Charles’ on Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

But this is actually in Hong Kong – Hong Lok Yuen, a private estate in the New Territories near Tai Po.

Google Maps

Developed by Canadian Overseas Development and Clifford Wong Chun-fai (黃振輝), along with Sun Hung Kai Properties on later stages, the estate at Hong Lok Yuen was approved in 1977, with 1196 units built between 1980 and September 1993.

The estate covers an area of 558,000 m2 (6,010,000 sq ft), of which 40% is open space – presumably the hill bits! The majority of houses on the estate are two to three storeys in height, 1,600–3,500 sq ft (150–330 m2) floor area, with their own garage and garden.

Floorplan via Midland Realty

Private bus route NR51 runs between the estate and the nearest railway station at Tai Po Market, running every 7 to 20 minutes on the 3 kilometre long journey.

Map via Moovit

Further reading

The South China Morning Post has a short piece on Hong Lok Yuen, and the Apple Daily newspaper also has this real estate listing for a villa at Hong Lok Yuen (Chinese-language).

The book “The First Estates: The Story of Fairview Park and Hong Lok Yuen” by Roger Nissim details the history of Hong Lok Yuen:

The First Estates shows the impact on Hong Kong’s urban history of Fairview Park and Hong Lok Yuen, the earliest examples of private estates provided in the New Territories of Hong Kong. Completed in the 1970s and 1980s, both are examples of land development projects built as low-density, American-style suburban house living, the first true alternative to the typical high-rise urban living of Hong Kong.

In this book, Roger Nissim traces their evolution—from retreats for urban dwellers to family residences—that followed the expansion of Hong Kong’s public transportation system. The book draws heavily on the original documents that are reproduced in the book. These unearthed documents detail land acquisition process and the negotiations with the government, financiers, local villagers, contractors, and new residents.

Read together, this collection of key primary sources—concerning government approvals, site selection, planning and implementation, layout plan, and sales policy—provide the reader with an unparalleled vision of this unique period in the evolution of Hong Kong’s urban development before the establishment of formal town planning. Nissim also re-examines the role of Clifford Wong, the visionary behind these projects. Exhaustive research and interviews with early residents who still live in the estates, early employees in the various relevant departments, and Wong’s descendants complete this volume and enhance the understanding of Hong Kong’s urban history.

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Hong Kong – an air conditioner in every window

With an average temperatures of 30ºC with 80 percent humidity through the summer months, it is no surprise that air conditioning is a popular fixture all over Hong Kong, and has influenced the design of buildings.

Laundry drying in the windows of Hong Kong apartments

You’ll see air conditioning units perched in front of windows.

Air conditioners and drying racks hang from apartment windows

Bolted onto any spot that fits.

Wall of air conditioners on Argyle Street

This construction site amenities block being completely encircled with them.

Need more air-conditioning?

But the ad-hoc installation of air conditions into the windows isn’t the most aesthetic addition, so by the 1970s designers started including specially built air conditioner platforms to their buildings.

Housing Authority tower under construction

An integral part of the building design.

Floor upon floor of through wall air conditioners in a Hong Kong building

Allowing residents to easily install an air conditioner without blocking their view to the outside.

Typical Housing Authority apartment tower

But the development of mini-split systems presented a difficulty – the outdoor condenser units didn’t fit in the spaces intended for the older ‘window box’ air conditioners.

Spilt systems replace old window box air conditioners

But manufacturers saw this as a problem they could solve, and developed mini-split systems with a low profile outdoor unit.

Split system air conditioner designed to be retrofitted onto a 'window box' air conditioner shelf

Which could squeeze onto the shelf designed for a ‘window box’ air conditioner.

Split system air conditioner installed on a shelf designed for a through-wall unit

As for the old air conditioners? They get sent off for scrap.

Scrapyard full of abandoned air conditioners

Footnote: air conditioner platforms and saleable area of apartments

In 2000 it was flagged that Hong Kong property developers were counting the area occupied by air-conditioners in the overall floor area of apartments.

The inclusion of air-conditioner platforms in the saleable area of units at the Sino Land-led consortium’s Island Resort in Siu Sai Wan has renewed concerns about inadequate regulatory controls on residential sales.

Surveyors said such an inclusion was unusual and it could confuse consumers about the efficiency ratio of the units and the effective selling prices.

They said it might be necessary to review the definition of saleable area if other developers followed suit.

‘It is rare that a developer builds a platform to install air-conditioners in a mass housing project,’ said Tony Tse Wai-chuen, chairman of the Hong Kong Institute of Surveyors’ general practice committee.

Air-conditioner platforms were usually seen in houses or luxury flats at least 1,500 square feet in size.

Those units had a centralised air-conditioning system and needed a room to install the related facilities, Mr Tse said.

In that case, some developers might include them in the saleable area.

Mr Tse said the move by Sino Land to include the platforms in the saleable area was acceptable based on the existing definition.

The definition of saleable area means the floor exclusively allocated to the unit, including balconies and verandas but excluding common areas such as stairs, lift shafts, lobbies and communal toilets.

Mr Tse said the platforms at Island Resort were not for common use, so they could be included in the saleable area.

One key issue is the lack of a standard definition of gross floor area.

Different developers include different proportions of common areas in the gross floor area.

But Hong Kong purchasers are used to thinking in terms of gross floor area when prices are all quoted on such a basis.

In the case of Island Resort, the air-conditioner platforms are also included in the gross floor area.

On such a basis, the average price for the first 68 units to be sold is $4,288 per sq ft.

Analysts said the inclusion inflated the gross floor area and resulted in a lower average price, which could set a wrong base to compare the prices with other projects.

John Hui, vice-president of the Hong Kong Institute of Real Estate Administration, said there was no statutory definition of saleable area, even though the present definition was commonly accepted and adopted in lease conditions in consent schemes.

‘Consumers may need to do a bit more homework before they make a move to purchase,’ Mr Hui said.

He said the inclusion of the platform in the saleable area was a marketing strategy.

In terms of the actual area homebuyers can use in the unit, which means a deduction of the air-conditioner platform and other areas, the price will be higher.

With the Hong Kong Institute of Surveyors issuing a clarification around the definition of “saleable area” in 2008.

Under the current regulations, no land premium is required for building an air-conditioning plant room, which used to be designed for detached houses to store a centralised air-conditioner. But some flat owners have in fact paid for the room, as some developers include it as part of the saleable area.

The new definition announced by the institute yesterday includes the ‘utility platform’ – a balcony-like platform – but not the air-conditioning plant room as saleable area.

‘The air-conditioning plant room is commonly found in multi-storey residential developments in recent years,’ the institute’s vice-president, Stephen Yip Moon-wah, said. ‘It should not be counted as saleable area because people living in the flat do not practically use it.’

A number of surveyors said that some developers were abusing the right to build an air-conditioning plant room. They were building the rooms larger and describing them as storerooms.

Air-conditioning plant rooms are commonly found in floor maps of newly built developments. In the floor map of one luxury apartment in Kowloon Tong, the air-conditioning plant room is roughly the size of the kitchen or small bedroom.

The size of a plant room can vary from 10 sq ft to over 30 sq ft, said Charles Chan Chiu-kwok, managing director of valuation and professional services at property consultant Savills.

There is no maximum area set for the plant room under current building regulations, ‘but its size has to be justifiable and approved by the Buildings Department’, he added.

‘Some developers include the room’s area as saleable area because, they say, the room is exclusively used by flat owners,’ Mr Chan said.

Surveyor Pang Siu-kei said buyers might mistake the plant room for a storeroom because developers’ floor plans do not explain what they are. ‘Some buyers eventually turn the plant room into a storeroom and hang the air-conditioners outside the buildings,’ he said.

However, Mr Pang said the utility platform should be counted as saleable area since it can be used for drying clothes or storing a washing machine.

‘The function of a utility platform is similar to a balcony. They should be counted, as they are useable,’ said Lawrence Poon Wing-cheung, the chairman of the institute’s saleable area working group.

Dr Poon said yesterday that the institute had not changed the definition of saleable area but clarified it to avoid different interpretations by developers. He said the clarification was made after consulting the views of the government and developers.

And the Hong Kong Government eventually defining “saleable area” in the Residential Properties (First-hand Sales) Ordinance:

Saleable area means the floor area of the residential property, which includes the floor area of (i) a balcony, (ii) a utility platform and (iii) a verandah so long as it forms part of the residential property. However, it excludes an air-conditioning plant room, a bay window, a cockloft, a flat roof, a garden, a parking space, a roof, a stairhood, a terrace or a yard even it forms part of the residential property.

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Hong Kong 1:150 scale dioramas by AC Studio

I’ve done quite a lot of my own 1:150 scale modelling over the years, but these Hong Kong dioramas by ‘AC Studio’ on Flickr are next level.

There’s a scratchbuilt ‘Tong Lau’ tenement building.

My 1/150 Model of Hong Kong's Tong Lau Tenement Building

A model of an old style Chinese Restaurant built inside a bamboo steamer.

1:150 Scale Diorama Model in Bamboo Steamer | Old Chinese Restaurant 一定好茶樓 | 蒸籠情景模型 香港微型藝術

A 1950s Causeway Bay scene featuring the Capitol Theatre and Ying Kong Mansion.

1:150 Scale Diorama | Capitol Theatre & Ying Kong Mansion, Causeway Bay , Old Hong Kong, Late 1950s 京華戲院 & 英光大廈, 香港銅鑼灣, 1950年代後期 情境模型 / 香港微型藝術 / 巴士模型

A modern era diorama featuring the Wan Chai Fire Station and the Canal Road Flyover.

1:150 Diorama Model 『In the roaring traffic's boom』 (Junction of Wan Chai Fire Station & Canal Road Flyover, Hong Kong  | 『奔騰不息之鬧市』 香港微型藝術 情景模型 (灣仔消防局及堅拿道天橋交界處)

And a busy scene featuring fire-fighters attacking a high-rise fire.

1:150 Scale Hong Kong High-rise Tenement Residential Building on Fire Diorama

Some truly inspirations work went into these scratch built scenes!

And a few more

As well as 1:150 scale, ‘AC Studio’ has also used TT scale models from the Tiny 微影 range to create a 1980s MTR and China Motor Bus scene, and a 2000s era MTR Airport Express diorama.

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