It’s been three years since my son first visited Hong Kong, so it’s time for another visit to see the extended family
This time around we visited a few places I’ve been to before but wanted to share with the rest of the family, some new places we’d never ever been to, as well as my usual side trips to see trains – including railway lines that didn’t exist on our last visit.
Day 1: arrival and Airport Express train
Day 2: Wong Tai Sin and Tsim Sha Tsui, MTR Island Line and Admiralty interchange
Day 3: Tsz Shan Monastery, Tai Po Market and Hong Kong Railway Museum
Day 4: Hong Kong Island trams and Wan Chai
Day 5: Repulse Bay, Mong Kok, MTR South Island and East Rail lines
Day 6: Hong Kong Dolphin Watch tour off Tung Chung, Hong Kong–Zhuhai–Macau Bridge, Central-Mid-Levels escalators,
Day 7: Hong Kong Observation Wheel, MTR Hung Hom station
Day 8: Lamma Island, MTR Kwun Tong line extension
Day 9: Hong Kong Museum of Medical Sciences, MTR Sai Ying Pun station, Kwun Tong, Ma On Shan, East Rail and Racecourse lines
Day 10: Peak Tram, Hong Kong Park, Kowloon Bay
Day 11: Route 81 bus from Kowloon to Sha Tin, MTR East Rail, NWFB Rickshaw Sightseeing Bus
Day 12: MTR West Rail and Tuen Mun light rail
Day 13: Mong Kok, Hong Kong Airport, Tung Chung, Discovery Bay by bus
Day 14: Hong Kong Airport, MTR Tung Chung Line, West Kowloon railway station, Whitty Street tram depot, Discovery Bay by ferry
There has been plenty written about the Shanghai Maglev train and the magnetic levitation technology which allows to reach a maximum speed of 431 km/h on the journey from Pudong International Airport. But none of it covers the operational details of the line – how many trains, how they change tracks, and where there are maintained. So let’s go for a deep dive.
The Shanghai maglev train (Chinese: 上海磁浮示范运营线) is a magnetic levitation train that operates in Shanghai. The line is the third commercially operated magnetic levitation line in history, after the British Birmingham Maglev and the German M-Bahn, the first commercial high-speed maglev, and the fastest fastest commercial high-speed electric train in the world.
Construction of the line began in March 1, 2001 and cost $1.2 billion to build, with public commercial service commenced on 1 January 2004. During a non-commercial test run on 12 November 2003 a maglev train achieved a Chinese record speed of 501 km/h.
Each train is 153 metres (502 ft) long, 3.7 metres (12 ft) wide and 4.2 metres (14 ft) tall, and has a three-class, 574-passenger configuration. The train set was built by a joint venture of Siemens and ThyssenKrupp from Kassel, Germany and based on years of tests and improvements of their Transrapid maglev monorail.
The double track guideway was built by local Chinese companies, the double line being 30.5 km (18.95 mi) long with a separate single track leading to a maintenance facility.
Going for a ride
For passengers arriving at Shanghai Pudong Airport there are three travel options – bus, maglev train, and metro train.
The maglev train is the fastest, as well as the most expensive.
Speeding past both trains on the parallel metro line, and buses on the freeway.
But it also means the front of the train is quickly covered with splattered bugs!
But I finally got somewhere when I found this video by Luke Starkenburg, showing the crossover in use.
He also provided an explanation as to why I didn’t see it in use.
I shot these scenes back in 2006 when the Shanghai Maglev used the switches in daily operation, when two trains were providing the regular service, with a third spare train. The trains used to change tracks in a ‘pinched loop’ system.
Today, the maglev uses two trains running on their own dedicated track all day, with the switches not used in regular operation, except in the morning and evening to put the trains away in the depot.
On to the maglev depot
On my maglev journey I noticed a single track veer away from the main alignment, just north of Pudong International Airport.
It climbed above the parallel freeway, then headed back to ground level.
Scrolling around on Baidu Maps I eventually found where the track connected back to the main line.
While the three-way junction can be seen in this uncredited photo of a 3-car long train outside the depot.
Uncredited photo, unknown author and origin
And a hidden crossover
Turns out there are more junctions than just the crossover at Longyang Road station, and on the single track branch to the depot – while following the maglev guideway on Google Earth, I found another crossover track, located on a turnback siding south of the Pudong International Airport terminus.
Photo via Google Earth
Hidden away in the middle of a freeway median strip, I had no luck finding a ground level photo of the turnback track.
With my virtual exploration of the network complete, here is a complete track layout diagram for the Shanghai maglev.
Note that the station at Pudong International Airport has conventional ‘side’ platforms, while Longyang Road has an extra island platform in the middle to separate arriving and departing passengers.
And a footnote on train length
This 2003 article by Sina News describes the delivery of the maglev trains to Shanghai.
Yesterday two maglev trains carried by China Shipping Group aboard the ship “Taigu” docked at the Port of Shanghai, and will wait for assembly and commissioning. At this point, the number of maglev trains in Shanghai has increased to seven.
After the maglev train is officially put into operation, a total of three trains are required, running back and forth on the double track. Each train consists of 5 cars and can carry more than 400 people.
A pair of five-car trains can also be seen in this undated photo, but on my 2013 visit I only saw four-car trains.
So this just raises more questions – maybe the first test trains were only three cars long, then extended to five cars, until the 2006 fire resulted in the scrapping of some carriages, and the remarshalling of them remaining fleet into three shorter trains?
Some more footage
Luke Starkenburg also has fantastic lineside views of the Shanghai maglev on his YouTube channel – from January 2014.
Trolleybuses normally require a web of overhead wires in order to supply power to the electric vehicles that run beneath them – but in the streets of Beijing’s Wangfujing shopping district, they aren’t necessary.
The buses drop their trolleypoles.
But keep moving.
Having switched to battery power instead.
Then put their trolleypoles back up elsewhere in the city.
I found trolleybus routes 103 “Beijing Railway Station – Beijing Zoo” and route 104 “Beijing Railway Station – Wuluju” running through the Wanfujing pedestrian zone in battery mode – this list by Zhiyuan Jiang details Beijing’s other trolleybus routes, some of which also use battery mode in pedestrian areas.
September 2018 saw first high-speed train service travel between between Hong Kong and Mainland China, following the opening of the the new Express Rail Link and the new West Kowloon Terminus. So what has happened to the locomotive hauled Intercity Through Trains and their terminus at Hung Hom?
But a few months after the new express rail link opened, and MTR Intercity Through Trains continue to run from Hung Hom station.
With no mention of service changes on the MTR website.
And train travel website The Man in Seat 61 listing three options to travel from Hong Kong to Beijing.
Option 1, by direct classic sleeper train. Arguably the nicest & cheapest way between Beijing and Hong Kong is the classic sleeper train. This takes 24 hours (an afternoon, a night and a morning) and runs every two days, with soft & hard sleepers & restaurant car.
Option 2, by direct high-speed train in just 8h58. The Guangzhou-Kowloon high-speed line opened on 23 September 2018, allowing direct high-speed trains to link Beijing and Hong Kong at up to 350 km/h (217 mph).
Option 3, by high-speed sleeper train. Take a high-speed Vibrant train to Guangzhou South, then a D-category high-speed sleeper to Beijing. This involves one simple same-station change of train, but it’s arguably the most practical and time-effective option of all.