How does the Peak Tram cross in the middle?

Hong Kong’s Peak Tram has two tramcars, but only one track – so how do they pass each other on the way up Victoria Peak?

Passing the other tramcar at the passing loop

Going for a ride

The Peak Tram is a funicular system with two trams in operation at all times, balancing each other on a single haulage cable that leads from the winding house at the top of the incline. The cable means both trams move at the same time, one moving upwards, the other downwards.

There is only one track at the bottom station.

'West' tram arrives into the lower Peak Tram station

And a single track at the top.

Peak Tram waiting for passengers at the upper station - empty because it's 10.30am in the morning!

But the magic happens in the midpoint of the incline, where there is a passing loop.

Passing the 'west' tramcar at the crossing loop

So how does the passing loop work?

There are three different ways to build a funicular railway:

Four-rail:

Two parallel straight tracks, with separate station platforms for each vehicle. The tracks are laid with sufficient space between them for the two cars to pass at the midpoint. Conventional rail wheels are used.

Three-rail:

Two parallel tracks, spreading apart at the midpoint to allow trains to pass, but with a shared rail elsewhere to save on materials and space. Conventional rail wheels are used.

Two-rail:

Two interlaced tracks, spreading apart at the midpoint to allow trains to pass, but shared elsewhere to save on materials and space. Special double-flanged wheels are used, to pass through the special pointwork installed at each end of the pointwork.

The American Society of Mechanical Engineers explains the genesis of the two-rail funicular design.

Carl Roman Abt described the “automatic turnout” solution he used at Giessbach in a sequence of very detailed articles published in 1879.

His solution was characterized by abandoning the long-standing paradigm that railway car wheels must have the wheel flanges on the inside of the rails. At Giessbach one car was guided by external wheel flanges; the other car had internal wheel flanges like those of normal railway cars.

This arrangement made passage over the turnout automatic. Abt’s design also required additional guidance slips, and the upper and lower switches had to be different.

However Abt’s Giessbach design had some problems. The cars’ passage over the switches was bumpy, and this frequently caused loose bolts on the rail at the rail connections.

As well as the improved design used today:

Abt’s improved solution employed two wheel flanges on the outer wheels on the outboard side of each passenger car as it traversed the turnout.

This allowed for an uninterrupted guidance rail on the outside of the turnout and larger passages for the cable and the cog rail crossing the inner rails. The inner wheels were purely cylindrical without flanges, allowing for smooth passage over the turnout.

This solution is what is still referred to as the “Abt Switch” – a short passing turnout track with no moving parts. It was first employed in the funicular of Citta-Stazione (Lugano Switzerland) in 1886.

The wheel flange configuration can be seen here: “left” tram above, “right” tram below.

Some how many rails in Hong Kong?

The Peak Tram is a two-rail funicular rail, with a short section of three rail track.

There are two rails at the top.

Both cables on the move at the upper Peak Tram station

Which continue down the hill below Barker Road station.

Track gang at work below Barker Road station

Just before the curve, an Abt switch marks the start of the passing loop.

Single track transitions to triple rail double track for the upcoming crossing loop

But unlike the diagram seen earlier, this part of the loop has a shared rail in the middle.

Triple rail double track on the uphill side of the crossing loop

This three rail sections continues down the hill towards May Road.

Triple rail double track on the uphill side of the crossing loop

Then transitions into four rails for the actual passing loop.

Triple rail double track transitions to four rails through the crossing loop itself

The tramcars then pass each other on the four rail section.

Passing the 'west' tramcar at the crossing loop

Then the track transitions back to two rails, via a second Abt switch.

Four rail double track transitions back to single track on the downhill side of the crossing loop

Remaining single track to the bottom.

Rolling through an empty MacDonnell Road Station

This YouTube video by Tom Flieger from 2016 shows the reverse angle:

So why is there a section of three rail track above the passing loop proper?

Taking a look at the past

Pre-1980s photos of the upper section of the Peak Tram shows a different track arrangement.

With a total of FIVE rails visible in this photo below the Peak Tower.

The 1888 book Industries and Iron, Volume 4 explains the track configuration as built:

On the lower part of the line two steel rails of 35lb. per yard are laid, of 5ft gauge, and forming a single line; and on the upper half three rails are laid, forming a double line. Half way is a cross siding with four rails about 130ft long in the clear, having switches at the lower end. Cable guide pulleys are placed along the line at distances varying from three to eight yards.

Each carriage is fitted with two steel clip brakes, arranged to grasp the centre brake rail, and to act at all times, unless held out of action by the brakesman; also with a pair of steel clip brake to work on the 35lb. rails. The centre brake rail is of steel, weighing 66lb. per yard, and is laid between the ordinary rails. It is jointed and fixed to the sleepers with steel bolts and clamps.

So the five rails seen at the top of the line are three running rails, and two brake rails.

Presumably the 1989 Peak Tram upgrade made the separate brake rail redundant, so it was removed. But as for the rebuilt of the top section of the line as two-rail track – was it to make space for wider trams to carry more passengers, or just to save money on rails?

And the future

With the Peak Tram currently being rebuilt to provide extra passengers capacity, I wonder whether the track arrangement will be changed for a third time?

Further reading

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Peak Tram car and the pantograph on the roof

Looking back at old photos of the Peak Tram, there is something on the roof that stands out – a pantograph.

A pantograph is mounted on the roof of an electric train, tram or bus to collect power through contact with an overhead line.

The overhead wires are visible in this 1960s photo at Barker Road Station.

The 4th generation tramcar plinthed near the upper Peak Tram terminus still has a pantograph on the roof.

Peak Tram car from 1956 plinthed near the upper terminus, still carrying a headboard celebrating the line's centenary in 1988

As does the sister car stored outside the Kennedy Road shed.

1950s tram in storage outside the depot

So when were the pantographs and overhead wires installed?

My guess was 1926 – the year when the Peak Tram haulage system was changed from the original steam powered winding engine to an electric motor, and a new style of tramcar was introduced.

My reasoning – early photos of the 1st generation Peak Tram cars lack pantographs, but the 2nd generation trams do.

By the 1940s the overhead was definitely in place:

China Mail
19 April 1946

The Peak Tram service was maintained until the morning of 17 December 1941, when a bomb fell alongside the track near the Points House, severed the rope in several places and brought down all overhead equipment.

The end of the pantographs and overhead wire came in 1989, when the green Peak Tram cars were replaced by the modern articulated trams.

Passing the 'west' tramcar at the crossing loop

These cars have electric lights inside the passenger saloon, yet no obvious form of power supply exists, so I assume they use an onboard generator.

Did the different tram generations run together?

This 1925 photo appears to show a 1st generation Peak Tram car running with a trolley pole on the roof, which just raises more questions!

Were trolley poles introduced to the Peak Tram sometime between 1888 and 1926, or were the 1st generation tram cars refitted to work on the electrically operated haulage system after 1926?

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Hong Kong’s Peak Tram and the abandoned station

On the way up to Victoria Peak on the Peak Tram there are four intermediate stations that trains seldom stop at, due to a lack of passengers. But there is also a fifth station that no longer exists – Bowen Road.

MacDonnell Road station looking downhill

The four intermediate stops are Barker Road, May Road, MacDonnell Road and Kennedy Road.

'Requested stop' sign onboard a Peak Tram

But not much has been written about the fifth station, with Chinese-language Wikipedia being where I first learnt about it.

Bowen Road Station (寶雲道站) is a closed station on the Peak Tram. It was opened on May 30, 1888 along with the rest of the line and was located just below the stone arch bridge at Magazine Gap Road.

It was closed on January 1, 1985 and was merged with nearby MacDonnell Road Station, located less than a hundred meters downhill. The station facilities have been demolished, leaving the remains of the waiting platforms and steps.

The platform and steps are easy to see from MacDonnell Road Station.

Ascending at Magazine Gap Road

And so can the distance between the two stations – or lack thereof!

MacDonnell road tram station, by Cypp0847 via Wikimedia Commons
Photo by Cypp0847 via Wikimedia Commons

Footnote

The downhill end of Kennedy Road station also has a section of unused platform.

Downhill end of Kennedy Road station

From what I can tell this was never a separate station.

Further reading

Another photo of the abandoned Bowen Road Station via HKRail.NET.

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Shek Kong stabling sidings and emergency rescue station

On Sunday 23 September 2018 the Express Rail Link into Hong Kong opened to passengers, connecting the city to the high-speed rail network of China. The railway runs through a 26 kilometre long tunnel from the China border at Mai Po to the brand new West Kowloon Terminus, with only one piece of above ground track on Hong Kong territory – the Shek Kong stabling sidings and emergency rescue station.


MTR Corporation photo

Shek Kong Stabling Sidings

Shek Kong is located in the new Territories, at the midpoint of the tunnel.

And has been provided with maintenance sheds to keep the fleet of high speed trains running.

Along with open stabling sidings.

And sidings for the storage of maintenance vehicles.

The Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) study for the Express Rail Link describes the purpose of the sidings.

Shek Kong Stabling Sidings (SSS)

Stabling sidings will be located at Shek Kong. To comply with the operational requirements, stabling sidings will comprise running maintenance area, stabling area, store, staff accommodation,permanent way facility locomotive shed, fuelling facility, gatehouse and access point, E&M plant building, train wash facility, and traction power feeder substation.

In order to accommodate with increased long haul train services to Hong Kong without affecting the overall line capacity to Hong Kong, stabling sidings within the Project are required to meet the operational requirements:

  • Stabling requirements for long haul trains to support the operation of the West Kowloon Terminus;
  • Overnight stabling for long haul trains, for return journey back to the Mainland on the following day;
  • Routine maintenance checks and inspections for long haul trains and shuttle trains during stopping over in Hong Kong before the return journey;
  • Stabling for short haul trains both at night and daytime off-peak;
  • Central infrastructure structural maintenance for the XRL and track side maintenance; and
  • Cleaning and inspection services for short haul and long haul trains.

In addition, a small scale engineering depot for necessary maintenance facilities (e.g. maintenance of permanent-way, overhead line, signalling and control, etc) and engineering trains will be required for maintenance of infrastructures and buildings, as well as handling of emergency situation such as derailment or emergency servicing.

In order to achieve the operational requirements, the stabling sidings will comprise:

  • Eight stabling sidings (approx. length 520m each);
  • Four covered running maintenance sidings (approx. length 480m each);
  • Three permanent-way sidings (approx. length 300m each);
  • Workshops and plant rooms;
  • Stores (including dangerous good stores);
  • One office building with control centre for the compound, gatehouse and canteen;
  • Stabling siding for emergency rescue bus;
  • Shunting tracks; and
  • Train Wash.

In addition, a total of six locomotives will be stabled at the stabling sidings. The associated facilities will comprise:

  • Two 40m locomotive sidings;
  • Refuelling tank; and
  • Locomotive maintenance shed and workshops.

Only minor maintenance activities and inspection will be carried out in stabling sidings. The proposed layout of stabling sidings has been designed to minimise the site area to approximately 20 hectares to accommodate the above-mentioned facilities.

The sidings themselves are stub ended with the mainline connection at the south end, facing the West Kowloon Terminus.

The mainline tracks run underground past the site, so the depot tracks head down to a grade separated junction.

Emergency Rescue Station

As well as the stabling sidings, an ‘Emergency Rescue Station’ is located on the adjacent main line tracks.


MTR Corporation photo of a DF11 diesel locomotive hauling an overhead inspection train

From the air it just looks like a big trench.

But it’s a big place down below.

With five sets of staircases along the length of the platform.

The Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) study for the Express Rail Link explaining the purpose of the facility.

An open air emergency rescue station (ERS) is required for fire fighting and evacuation of passengers in case of emergency at approximately the mid-point of the alignment.

The ERS is designated as a place for trains to stop and to discharge passengers either to another train in the event of mechanical problems or evacuation to an open air platform in the event of a train fire. Firemen’s lifts and staircases will be provided to allow ease of access for firemen. Passengers can escape vertically via staircases from the box to a secure fenced-off holding area.

The ERS will be located next to Shek Kong stabling sidings in a depressed box with an open top approximately 500m long, 28m wide and 18m deep. It will comprise of three tracks and two island platforms, with the two outer tracks being the mainline running tracks and the centre track being a pocket track for emergency refuge. Island platforms will be provided between the tracks for detraining passengers in case of emergency.

The length will accommodate a full length long haul train consisting of 16 coaches with a total length of 430m.

More diagrams

Plan view of the stabling sidings and emergency rescue station.

Along with a cross section.

And a full track diagram.

Further reading

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Navigating the gates at MTR/KCR interchange stations

Until 2007 Hong Kong’s rail network was managed by two separate operators – the MTR Corporation that run the predominately underground network, and the Kowloon–Canton Railway Corporation that ran the above ground lines. A side effect of this was two separate fare structures, and a peculiar situation at one interchange station – ‘double sided’ ticket gates.

Interchange stations

Four interchange stations existed between the MTR and KCR networks.

  • Kowloon Tong: opened in 1979 with the MTR Kwun Tong line, it became an interchange station in 1982 following the opening of the KCR East Rail line platforms.
  • Mei Foo: opened in 1982 on the MTR Tsuen Wan Line, and became an interchange station in 2003 with the opening of the KCR West Rail Line.
  • Nam Cheong: opened as an interchange station in 2003 between the MTR Tung Chung and KCR West Rail lines.
  • East Tsim Sha Tsui: opened in 2004 as the terminus of the KCR East Rail line, with a connection to the MTR Tsuen Wan line at Tsim Sha Tsui station.

Enter the rail merger

On 2 December 2007 the MTR and KCR networks were merged during a midnight ceremony.

Where KCR signs were removed from stations, exposing new MTR branding beneath.

Rebranding signage across the combined network was part of the initial post-merger work, but the “Seamless Interchange Programme” was far bigger.

One of the key parameters for the Government, when considering the Rail Merger, was to ensure that the Rail Merger created a seamless integration of travel between the MTR railway and KCR railway.

This would require, among other things, the removal of ticketing barriers at MTR and KCR interchange stations allowing passengers to travel from the KCR railway to the MTR railway (and vice versa) without the need to pass through intermediate ticket barriers or the need to pay a second boarding charge. The stations which will be affected by this process are Kowloon Tong, Nam Cheong and Mei Foo. The removal of such barriers is planned to be completed within 12 months after the Merger Date.

But physical works weren’t the only changes needed – integration of the two ticketing systems was also needed.

The “Day 2” changeover began with the trial for the Integrated Single Journey Ticket Automatic Fare Collection (AFC) System, which was launched on 28 September.

Single journey ticket passengers were able to enjoy reduced fares and travel within the whole MTR network using only one ticket, with the interchange ticket gates remaining in place when such passengers interchanged between the pre-merger MTR and pre-merger KCR systems at Kowloon Tong, Mei Foo and Nam Cheong stations.

Seven wall openings were created on the platform level of Nam Cheong Station to facilitate a convenient new cross-platform interchange for passengers from Hong Kong bound Tung Chung Line trains to the Tuen Mun bound West Rail Line.

To ensure smooth integration of the two different Single Journey AFC systems, more than 150,000 regularly used fare combinations were used to test software applications to confirm that proper fares were deducted.

With the successful completion of the trial, the progressive removal of 100 interchange ticket gates at the three interchange stations was completed by 10 November 2008. More than 150 Customer Service Ambassadors wearing yellow T-shirts were readily available to assist passengers to adapt to changes in the station layout at Kowloon Tong, Mei Foo and Nam Cheong stations.

Following the introduction of the integrated ticketing system, the fare gates were merely covered over.

With temporary signage above.

And temporary fencing defining the new interchange routes.

But it took over a month for them to be physically removed, leading to confused passengers in the meantime:

Rail users’ confusion about where to go when switching between former KCR lines and MTR services should come to an end this week when it begins dismantling the turnstiles passengers used to have to pass through.

They were turned off on September 28, when the MTR integrated the formerly separate charging systems, but since then thousands of passengers switching between lines have become confused and accidentally exited stations.

The MTR Corp has handed out more than 2,000 free single-journey tickets to transit passengers who made that mistake.

However, general manager Miranda Leung Chan Chi-ming said the situation was improving. ‘Passengers were not used to the changeover when it was first introduced, but they adapted quickly.’
Mrs Leung said the number mistakenly exiting stations quickly fell from 700 on the first day to between 100 and 200 a day.

Leading to the unified network seen today.

Station by station – Kowloon Tong

Kowloon Tong was the first MTR/KCR interchange station – opened in 1979 with the MTR Kwun Tong line, it became an interchange station in 1982 following the opening of the KCR East Rail line platforms.

Busy times at Kowloon Tong

With the KCR East Rail line above ground and the MTR Kwun Tong line belong, the Kowloon Tong was effectively two stations joined by long interchange passageways.

Underground passage at Kowloon Tong station

Chinese-language Wikipedia describes the original layout as:

There are three underground concourse are Kowloon Tong Station. The north and south concourses are used by the East Rail Line. Both of them have interchange links to the Kwun Tong Line concourse.

Interchange passengers would exit one station via the ticket gates, walk through a subway that was part of the unpaid area, then enter the second station – MTR Exit B1/B3 led to the KCR North concourse, while MTR Exit D led to the KCR south concourse.

Following the 2007 rail merger the unpaid and paid areas were modified, with the three concourses being joined into a single paid area. A parallel unpaid area was retained between the KCR north concourse and the MTR concourse, but the ability to move between the various MTR station exits via the unpaid area was removed.

Mei Foo

Opened in 1982 on the MTR Tsuen Wan Line, Mei Foo became an interchange station in 2003 with the opening of the KCR West Rail Line.

Tsuen Wan line platforms at Mei Foo station

Mei Foo operated as two stations linked by a long underground walkway.

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

Featuring multiple escalators.

Escalators bank #3 in the transfer passageway between the Tsuen Wan and West Rail lines at Mei Foo station

MTR exit D1 connected the underground Tsuen Wan Line concourse to the above ground KCR West Rail concourse.

Following the 2007 rail merger, major changes were required in order to integrate the two paid areas – as described by the 閘區合併 page at ‘Hong Kong Railway Dictionary’:

  • Fence installed between unpaid and paid areas in the interchange walkway,
  • One of the four escalators near Tsuen Wan Line Exit D leading to West Rail Line concourse removed, reminder are classified as paid areas.
  • Two lifts were built at the original site of the removed escalator and designated as a paid area.
  • The lifts connecting Exit C2, interchange passage, and Tsuen Wan Line concourse are designated as paid areas, and separate gates and ticketing facilities are installed on the ground level.
  • Since there is no non-paid area access to the C2 exit and the above-mentioned lifts in the station, the above-mentioned lifts were replaced were designated as new E exits.
  • A new wheelchair lift was installed at the C2 exit to replace the above-mentioned lifts that previously provided barrier-free access to the non-paid area and ground level of the station.
  • Initially Exit D between non-paid and paid area was not provided, but due to detouring passengers causing crowding elsewhere in the concourse, independent gates and ticketing facilities were later added to provide direct access.
  • A new gate is added to the Tsuen Wan Line concourse near Exit C to facilitate passengers leaving the station. (The reason is the same as above)

Leading to the layout seen today.

Nam Cheong

Opened as an interchange station in 2003 between the MTR Tung Chung and KCR West Rail lines, Nam Cheong was the first shared-use integrated station between MTR and KCR networks.

Escalators to the West Rail / Tung Chung platform at Nam Cheong station

The station concourse was divided into two parts, managed by the respective rail operators.

Special transfer fare gates were located between the two, enabling passengers paying with Octopus card to interchange between the two systems by tapping their card just once.

Following the 2007 rail merger these transfer fare gates in the middle of the concourse were removed, and passageways were added between platforms 1 and 4, providing a cross-platform interchange between the Tung Chung line Hong Kong-bound and West Rail line Tuen Mun-bound.

Passageway at Nam Cheong station linking the Hong Kong-bound Tung Chung line platform to the Tuen Mun-bound West Rail line platform

Giving the layout seen today.

East Tsim Sha Tsui station

Opened in 2004 as the terminus of the KCR East Rail line, East Tsim Sha Tsui station has a connection to the MTR Tsuen Wan line at Tsim Sha Tsui station.

Directions to the West Rail line and East Tsim Sha Tsui station at Tsim Sha Tsui station

But due to the distance between the two stations the interchange was “out of system” – passengers exit one station, then enter another to transfer.

'Red Zone' signage in the corridor linking East Tsim Sha Tsui and Tsim Sha Tsui stations

Due to the complexity of the unpaid area subway network between the two stations, no changes were made following the 2007 rail merger.

Further reading

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