Swapping left and right on the Tuen Ma Line

Road and rail traffic in Hong Kong usually moves on the left, but the recently completed Tuen Ma Line is a little different, with the eastern section running on the right, and switching back over to the left in the middle of Kowloon. So why does such a strange situation exist?

In the beginning

Hong Kong’s first railway line was single track, so there wasn’t a side for trains to take.

Photo via this blog.

But following the 1980s upgrade that duplicated and electrified the Kowloon Canton Railway, they had to pick a side – left, the same as road vehicles.

And so this remained the standard until the opening of the Ma On Shan line in 2004 – a 11.4 km long branch line serving nine stations in the Sha Tin District.

Ma On Shan line viaduct parallels the Shing Mun River

This line branched from Tai Wai on the East Rail line, where passengers could connect with trains headed under Lion Rock for Kowloon and Hong Kong Island.

Train arriving into a crowded platform

So the decision was made for trains on the Ma On Shan Line was run on the right.

Wu Kai Sha bound train arrives at Ma On Shan station

Allowing a cross platform interchange for passengers at Tai Wai.

MTR diagram

Enter the Sha Tin to Central Link project and the Tuen Ma line

After many years as just a proposal, in 2007 the Sha Tin to Central Link project was given the go-ahead, extending the East Rail line under Victoria Harbour to Hong Kong Island, and join the Ma On Shan line and the West Rail line into a single east-west corridor across the New Territories and Kowloon.

Shatin to Central link work site at Diamond Hill station

The latter connection was a new underground railway known as the “Tai Wai to Hung Hom section” of the Sha Tin to Central Link project, and included 11 kilometres track and six new intermediate stations.

The only problem – trains on the West Rail line line ran on the left like the rest of Hong Kong, not on the right like the Ma On Shan line.

Tuen Mun bound train approaches at Tin Shui Wai station

So the solution?

Triangle junction at Ngan Wai, with the West Rail viaduct in the background

No – not an at grade crossover – but some twists in the new section of underground tunnel.

The railway alignment runs from Sung Wong Toi station below Ma Tau Chung Road/Ma Tau Wai Road towards the west, reaching To Kwa Wan station. After leaving To Kwa Wan station, the alignment passes Ko Shan Road and joins the Ho Man Tin station at the intersection of Fat Kwong Street and Shun Yung Street.

As new station of line was built under narrow roads, with cut-and-cover station boxes connected by tunnels dug with a mixed ground TBM.

Tunnelling works for the Shatin to Central Link on Ma Tau Wai Road, To Kwa Wan

So the decision was made to build To Kwa Wan Station as a ‘stacked’ three level station.

MTR photo

Concourse on top, then platform 1 to Tuen Mun, and platform 2 to Wu Kai Sha at the bottom.

MTR diagram

The stacked tunnels splitting apart into two side-by-side left running tracks before reaching Ho Man Tin station, and into two side-by-side right running tunnels at Sung Wong Toi station.

MTR diagram

A clever adoption of what was otherwise a constraint placed on the design.

Footnote: what about the rail links into China?

Over in Mainland China cars drive on the right, so vehicles crossing the border from Hong Kong need to swap sides. But what about trains crossing the border to Lo Wu?

They get stay on the left hand side – because China Railways also uses left-hand running across their national network.

Overtaking a HXD3C class hauled passenger train on the 'old' Shanghai-Beijing railway

Further reading

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“Pretty as a postcard” at Hung Hom station

When you think picture postcard scenes of Hong Kong, you’d usually think of the view from Victoria Peak across Hong Kong Island to Kowloon, and the reverse view from Tsim Sha Tsui across the harbour to the Hong Kong skyline. But a postcard of Hung Hom station?

source (Rear view)

I guess you could say it is pretty by night.

source (Rear view)

But viewed across the tangle of roadways that lead to the Cross Harbour Tunnel?

(Rear view)

A view of the station forecourt?


Or across the bus interchange?

source (Rear view)

I wonder who the target audience of these postcards was – I doubt it was even railfans, because the trains should’ve been more prominent!

Footnote: the other end of the line

The other end of the Kowloon Canton Railway didn’t miss out on the postcard treatment – here we see Lo Wu station, at the border crossing with mainland China, complete with iconic red-white-blue bags.

source (Rear view)

Footnote: a Cross Harbour Tunnel tangent

I also found a postcard showing the Kowloon portal to the Cross Harbour Tunnel.

source (Rear view)

And another view by night.


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Ticket touts and the Hong Kong – Macau ferry

When looking at tourist guides, one piece of advice keeps coming up for the Hong Kong – Macau ferry – don’t buy tickets from the touts at the ferry pier. Yet the advice from my family in Hong Kong was the opposite – that’s how you can get a cheap ride. So what’s the real story?

TurboJet at Macau: catamaran on the left, Boeing Jetfoil on the right

Time to buy a ticket

When I arrived into the ferry terminal, the ticket touts are there to greet us.

Ticket touts at work at the Hong Kong China Ferry Terminal

Leading you towards their companion holding the tickets by the departure gates.

Ticket touts at work at the Hong Kong China Ferry Terminal

But the ticket counters are in the opposite direction.

Ticket windows at the Hong Kong China Ferry Terminal

We opted to buy tickets from the official counter, then headed for the departure gate.

Check-in gates at the Hong Kong China Ferry Terminal

Where gate staff assigned us seat numbers.

Gate staff place stickers on ferry tickets to indicate seat reservations

From a sheet of itty-bitty little stickers.

Counter staff hand out seat allocation stickers at the ferry boarding gate

After clearing immigration and customers, it was down the tamp to the ferry.

Walking down to the ferry

And we were on board.

Interior of TurboJet catamaran 'Universal MK 2005'

Advice from other tourists

Over at Tripadvisor, one reviewer says:

Don’t take any notice of individuals trying to sell you tickets go straight to your chose of jet ferry provider depending on which island you want to go to.

And another.

Beware of ticket touts who approach you before you can reach the official sales counters. May be persistent and irritating. Just ignore them and walk directly to sales counters to buy tickets.

And someone who got hustled by them.

As we were going up the escalator, some of my friends who reached the top ahead were hustled by this young man talking loudly and appearing very much in charge, saying we had to hurry because the ferry was leaving soon.

But it’s actually more complicated

The story this Yelp reviewer gave is the same one I got from my cousin – it’s not an outright scam.

You can get tickets by queuing at the counter. Or you can “get tickets” from the one of those strangers standing around scalping tickets at a discount. First of all, they are legit. They are often travel agents or tour groups, purchase ferry tickets in bulk from the ferry company. When they have residual tickets, they resell them individually, at a discount but still be able to make money, before the ferry departs and the tickets expired.

But their desire to offload tickets looks like a high-pressure scam.

The guy was probably one of the casino “brokers” who get wholesale tickets and resell them, so it’s not really a scam and he’s probably earning money. I guess the tickets were about to expire and he was at a rush to get rid of them. After the departure time, the tickets would be void.

But it appears the touts are also responsible for driving up the prices of ferry tickets.

But when it comes to holidays or weekends, the scalpers will usually set the ticket price above the official one according to the demand.

That time I did approach the suspected scalper and was later told that they sold each 12.30pm ticket for $50 more – I forgot how much the price was exactly. I saw the man inside the travel agency holding a thick stack of ferry tickets, and so you could image how much profit they could make if they sold them all.

Sometimes resulting in entire ferry sailings being sold out.

Ferry tickets at Sheung Wan sell out by the minute, and there are ferries every five minutes. Nearby tourist agencies offer ferry tickets for immediate departure in a system that can only be described as legalised scalping.

No wonder tickets sell out so quickly at the counter: the agencies buy out chunks of tickets for resale at inflated prices. This leads to the ‘waiting line’ extravaganza at the ferry terminal: you can depart on any ferry earlier than your ticketed ferry, so long as there are seats available.

So, for the next departing ferry, there are two lines: one for legitimate ticket holders, another a ‘waiting line’ for those who want an earlier ride. Once that ferry is full, the waiting line immediately dissipates to queue up for the next ferry. It’s certainly a game, and an easy game to get sucked into by the crowd

It appears the ticket touts have been at work for years – as this 2000 piece from the South China Morning Post attests.

A South China Morning Post investigation carried out before this weekend’s rush for tickets found the touts usually operate during the peak hour, between 5pm and 6pm.

Six men stood in front of TurboJet’s ticket booths offering tickets. ‘$160, $160’, they said, referring to the price of economy-class tickets on offer.

The scalpers work as a group.

On weekdays they sell the economy tickets – marked ‘complimentary’ – for $160, one dollar less than the normal night-service.

At weekends the economy tickets go for $200. It is believed the touts get the tickets from agents who make bulk bookings.

And laws against the practice passed way back in 1982.

Summary Offences (Amendment) Bill 1982

The Secretary for Security moved the second reading of:―‘A bill to amend the Summary Offences Ordinance’.

He said:―Sir, I move the second reading of the Summary Offences (Amendment) Bill 1982, the purpose of which is to prevent the resale at a profit of travel tickets in public places.

In order for the Police to take action under existing legislation, the activities of ‘ticket touts’ must be quote, ‘to the annoyance of or in a manner likely to annoy any other person’ unquote. In the past, it has been comparatively rare for such complaints to be made to the Police because in most cases the person directly importuned was perforce willing, or eager, to buy the ticket offered.

However, statistics on recent prosecutions indicate that the problem is growing, mainly in respect of the organized reselling in public at exhorbitant prices of Hong Kong/Macau ferry, hydrofoil and jetfoil tickets. This usually takes place in the vicinity of the Macau ferry wharf.

The Places of Public Entertainment Ordinance prohibits the sale of tickets for public entertainment in certain public places, or at a price exceeding that stipulated by the organizer or promoter of the entertainment. It is considered that similar provision should be made in the Summary Offences Ordinance in respect of travel tickets. This Bill, therefore, seeks to make it an offence for any person to sell in a public place, at a price exceeding the authorized price, a ticket or voucher issued for travel on any type of public conveyance.

Provision is made to cover all modes of public transport to prevent the so called ‘scalpers’ transferring their attention to other areas, such as for example the resale of Kowloon-Canton Railway tickets during the Lunar New Year period.

Final words

So buying ferry tickets from a tout might save you money, but some words of advice:

  • is the ticket actually cheaper than the advertised price?
  • can you actually make the departure time on the ticket?
  • is the ticket to your preferred destination, or the less popular Taipa or Kowloon terminals?

And finally – if the touts have bought up all of the tickets for the next ferry sailing, there is always the option to buy an ticket from the “legitimate” office and join the standby line.

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Macau’s exclave in Mainland China

I knew Macau had a long history of land reclamation, which reached a peak when the islands of Taipa and Coloane were joined together to form the single island of Cotai. But the part of Macau I recently discovered is even stranger – the University of Macau campus located on land excised from Mainland China.

Sun goes down over Macau, with China only a short swim across the river

University of Macau, Hengqin Island

The University of Macau is located on a 1.09km2 piece of Hengqin Island in Guangdong Province, under a 40 year lease by the People’s Republic of China to the Macau SAR government.

On 20 December 2009 then-Chinese President and General Secretary of the Communist Party Hu Jintao officiated at the groundbreaking ceremony for the new campus, following a decision by the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress of China to authorise the Macau SAR government to exercise jurisdiction over the new UM campus.

In early 2013 the Macau Legislative Assembly passed Law 3/2013 providing for the application of Macau law in the campus effective on opening day, and on 5 November 2013 then Vice-Premier of the State Council Wang Yang officiated at the new campus inauguration ceremony. Classes started at the new campus for the 2014/2015 academic year.

An exclave in Mainland China

The campus is located across the water from Macau.

Separated by the Baía de Tai Van.

The teal area marked on this map.

Baidu Maps

A tall concrete wall prevents access to the rest of the Mainland China.

No way out by land.

And no way back in.

So the Public Security Police Force of Macau established their own police station on the campus.

As did the Macau Fire Services Bureau with their own fire station.

Designed to fit in with the rest of the campus.

But to remove the need for students to cross the border into China and back twice a day, the decision was made to construct a direct route into Macau – a 1,570 metre long underwater tunnel.

The four-lane traffic tunnel was constructed using cut-and-cover methods, and was divided into three sections: the Hengqin approach, a 530m long underwater section and the Macau approach. The underwater section is being constructed within a dried cofferdam with seawater pumped out to facilitate construction.

Going for a drive

The Macau portal of the 澳門大學河底隧道 (Túnel Para O Novo Campus Da Universidade De Macau) is located on Avenida Marginal Flor de Lotus in Cotai.

Down the ramp.

And towards the portal.

A few skylights ease the transition into the darkness of the tunnel.

Until your eyes adjust to the light.

The tunnel then curves to the right towards Hengqin Island.

Continuing downhill to pass under the water.

Back uphill, then a left turn.

Finally, the light at the end of the tunnel.

We see another set of skylights.

And now on Mainland China soil, but driving on the left hand side of the road.

Pedestrians aren’t left out

The underwater tunnel to the University of Macau also includes a separate pedestrian walkway.

With stairs and an escalator at each end instead of a long vehicle ramp, the pedestrian tunnel is only 500 metres long.

The only downside – the portal on the Macau side is in the middle of absolutely nowhere.

So taking a ride on the bus is a more popular option.

Stressing over cross-border security

As you might suspect for a land border between Mainland China and anywhere else, as soon as the new University of Macau campus was handed over, attempts were made to jump the fence to reach Macau’s jurisdiction.

China Daily photo

So banners reading “It is strictly forbidden to climb over the fence of the University of Macau, violators will be subject to administrative punishment” were hung on the fence, and troops from the Guangdong Provincial Frontier Defense Corp were sent to patrol the mainland side of the border.

China Daily photo

But still the attempts at sneaking in the fence continued, until the steel security fence on the mainland side was upgraded.

China Daily photo

And security guards posted on the university side of the fence.

China Daily photo

Leading to a reduction in smuggling cases from 51 to just six by August 2015.

And tunnel troubles

Before it was even completed, the tunnel to the University of Macau ran into trouble.

Witnesses working at the site told the media that six night-shift workers were operating at the Hengqin entrance of the tunnel, with four on the surface and two inside the tunnel. Workers on the surface reported hearing strange noises coming from the site and felt abnormal ground movements. They immediately informed tunnel workers through a wireless communication system to evacuate. The ground surrounding the tunnel entrance then collapsed, burying five pieces of heavy machinery inside the tunnel. Nobody was injured in the incident.

And the troubles didn’t finish after it opened – the tunnel started leaking!

An issue not addressed until 2020, when the tunnel was closed in stages so that repair works could be completed.

Footnote: wonky maps

Don’t bother trying to look at the University of Macau campus on Google Maps – the streets are all wonky and don’t line up with the aerial imagery.

The reason for this the Chinese Government – for national security reasons every map of China must be intentionally distorted.

My suggestion – take a look via Baidu Maps instead.


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‘Flying’ to Macau on a Boeing 929 Jetfoil

My favourite mode of transport in Hong Kong has to be the Boeing 929 Jetfoil – a passenger carrying waterjet-propelled hydrofoil that speeds across the waves between Hong Kong and Macau.

TurboJet operated Boeing 929 hydrofoil 'Guia' off Hong Kong Island

About the Boeing 929 Jetfoil

Boeing launched the first Boeing 929 Jetfoil in 1974, with three vessels entering service in the Hawaiian Islands until 1979, when the company collapsed.

The three hydrofoils were acquired by Far East Hydrofoil (now TurboJET) for service between Hong Kong and Macau, with further vessels entering their fleet in the years since.

Each jetfoil has two Rolls-Royce Allison 501KF gas turbine engines, propelling the vessel at speeds of up to 45 knots (83 km/h).

TurboJet Boeing 929 Jetfoil off Hong Kong

Off for a ride

Services depart the Hong Kong–Macau Ferry Terminal at Sheung Wan.

Shun Tak Centre and the Hong Kong Macau Ferry Terminal

Then head west out of Victoria Harbour.

TurboJet Boeing 929 hydrofoil 'Terceira' leaves Hong Kong for Macau

Building up speed, until the foils lift the hull of the vessel out of the water.

TurboJet Boeing 929 Jetfoil 'Funchal' arrives back at Hong Kong Island

Leaving the city skyline behind.

TurboJet Boeing 929 hydrofoil 'Terceira' leaves Hong Kong for Macau

Passing the southern shore of Lantau.

TurboJet Boeing 929 Jetfoil 'Funchal' off Lantau Island

Then out into the open sea.

TurboJet hydrofoil cuts across the bow of tanker 'Golden Fareast' off Hong Kong Island

An hour later, we arrive into Macau.

TurboJet hydrofoil overtakes a New World First Ferry catamaran

Slowing down to pass beneath the Amizade Bridge.

TurboJet Boeing 929 jetfoil Cacilhas arrives at Macau

And then berth at the Outer Harbour Ferry Terminal.

TurboJet Boeing 929 jetfoils at the Outer Harbour Ferry Terminal

A few videos

Here we see TurboJet Jetfoil ‘Cacilhas’ arriving at the Hong Kong Macau Ferry Terminal, followed by the departure of classmate ‘São Jorge’.

The startup noise from the two Rolls-Royce Allison 501KF gas turbine engines is music to *my* ears.

But the passengers onboard might not agree.

Yet something everyone should agree on – watching the Jetfoil rise out of the water is magical.

(landing is pretty cool too)

Tracking down the Jetfoils

TurboJet operates a number of different vessel types in their fleet, including a number of high speed catamaran ferries – so if you want to ride a Boeing 929 Jetfoil you can’t just jump on any Hong Kong – Macau service – you need to check the departure board.

Departure board at the Outer Harbour Ferry Terminal

And then consult the TurboJet fleetlist to see which departures are being operated by a Jetfoil.

Departure board at the Outer Harbour Ferry Terminal

Update for 2022

Since I first drafted this post, a lot has changed regarding the TurboJET fleet of Jetfoils – the opening of the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge in 2018 saw many passengers switch to bus services, and the COVID-19 pandemic saw the ferry service suspended indefinitely in February 2020.

The ‘Jetfoil Conservation Concern Group‘ was launched soon after, hoping to secure the preservation of the Jetfoil ‘Flores’, the first Boeing 929 to enter service.

Turbojet jetfoil 'Taipa' departs for Macau

But March 2021 saw the first Jetfoil scrapped – ‘Santa Maria’.

The Jetfoil Conservation Concern Group has issued a statement on Saturday expressing their sorrow over the dismantling of the Jetfoil “Santa Maria,” which was due to have started last Friday, according to the group.

Titled “Goodbye Santa Maria,” the statement hints that the dismantling of the longest-serving ferry between Hong Kong and Macau should have happened on March 19 at the Wang Tak shipyard in the neighboring region of Hong Kong.

Santa Maria was one of the two Jetfoils directly purchased by Boeing from the manufacturer known at the time as Far East Hydrofoils (it is now TurboJET) under the initiative of gaming tycoon Stanley Ho.

The ferry, named after one of the islands of Azores Archipelago in Portugal, serviced trips between the two regions from 1975 to 2019, without any significant failures or accidents in its record.

According to the group which is knowledgeable of the history of this type of vessel, the “Santa Maria,” is the record holder of the longest-serving jetfoil in the Hong Kong-Macau ferry route.

The last sailing of Santa Maria was a return journey to Hong Kong from Macau on August 14, 2019, at 6:30 p.m.

It was later followed on the scrap line by Jetfoils ‘Balsa’ and ‘Urzela’, with classmates ‘Pico’ and ‘Guia’ to follow.

Further reading

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