Following the Shatin to Central Link project works from home

Being able to use satellite imagery to follow construction work from home is nothing new, but the 3D imagery that Google has made available for free is something else.

You can peer down this 16 meter diameter, 32 meter deep shaft at Fung Tak.

The cut and cover station box at Kai Tak.

Or the multi-level station complex at Ho Man Tin.

It’s just like being there!


More detail about the Shatin to Central Link tunnels from Hin Keng to Diamond Hill.

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Testing MTR trains in the green fields of England

Hong Kong’s MTR trains usually spend their days running back and forth through dark tunnels, but for one early train it experienced something quite different – the green fields of England.

The contract for Hong Kong’s first electric trains was awarded to British firm Metro-Cammell in July 1976, who built them at their plant at Washwood Heath, Birmingham.

Birmingham Mail photo

Meanwhile three hours away in north-east England, there was another rail system being supplied with Metro-Cammell trains – the Tyne and Wear Metro.

One feature of this system was a 2.4 kilometre long test track, completed in June 1975.

The single track line was provided with a 1,500 volt DC overhead power supply, a station platform and two-road train shed, along with a section of reverse curves, a length of 1 in 25 gradient.

065752:An aerial photograph of Metro test track Backworth. Unknown 1975-1980

And a 4.75 metre diameter tunnel.

066055:Metro Test Centre Track Newcastle upon Tyne Unknown 1977

By 1978 Metro-Cammell has completed the first MTR train for Hong Kong, and a decision was made to send it to the Tyne and Wear Metro test track for a shakedown run. However there was a problem – Hong Kong’s trains were far larger than what the test track was designed for – so the tunnel had to be demolished, and only a two carriage long train could be created.

Following testing the train was despatched to Hong Kong, arriving on 16 May 1978, commencing testing within the Kowloon Bay Depot on 4 September the same year, with the system opening to passengers on 1 October 1979.

As for the Tyne and Wear Metro, it eventually opened to passengers on 11 August 1980. The test track closed the same year, and is now the North Tyneside Steam Railway.


And some more on the British connection to the MTR:

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MTR Airport Service Platform at Chek Lap Kok

On the MTR network there is a station that trains stop at, but passengers cannot use – the Airport Service Platform on Chek Lap Kok. photo

The MTR Airport Express began service on 6 July 1998, the opening date of the new Hong Kong International Airport.

Overview of Hong Kong International Airport

With Airport Station the initial terminus.

Stacked arrival and departure platforms at Airport station

Services were extended one stop to AsiaWorld–Expo Station from 20 December 2005.

Arrival at the AsiaWorld-Expo terminus

Following the opening of the adjacent convention centre.

Skypier and AsiaWorld-Expo at the eastern end of Hong Kong International Airport

But this extension didn’t see any new track built.

MTR train arrives at AsiaWorld-Expo station

The viaduct between Airport and AsiaWorld–Expo stations already existed.

MTR train departs Airport station for AsiaWorld-Expo

Built as part of the original Airport Railway project as a turnback facility.

The project included several other elements besides the station and viaducts. Once departing passengers have alighted, trains travel to a cleaning facility for litter removal before coming back via a crossover to collect arriving passengers.

Called the ‘Airport Service Platform’ or ‘機場快綫整備月台’. photo

Terminating trains

Under normal service headways, the single platform at AsiaWorld-Expo is enough to handle terminating Airport Express trains.

MTR train arrives at AsiaWorld-Expo station

But there is a second track.

Display for the 'Airport Control Area' Alstom Alspa CMF/ITS system at AsiaWorld-Expo

Located on the other side of a narrow island platform – the forgotten ‘Airport Service Platform’.

Island platform that was the original Airport Service Platform opposite the current AsiaWorld-Expo station platform

Now renumbered AsiaWorld–Expo 2.

'AWE 2' sign on the service platform at AsiaWorld-Expo

And hidden behind the platform screen doors.

Looking across to the centre service platform at AsiaWorld-Expo

But still available for the use of trains without passengers.

And other unused platforms on the Airport Railway

There are a few other ‘ghost’ platforms along the route – two island platforms at Nam Cheong station, located between the Airport Express and Tung Chung track pairs.

Airport Express emergency platform at Nam Cheong station

A pair of island platforms between the Airport Express and Tung Chung tracks at Sunny Bay.

Looking across the platforms at Sunny Bay station

Side platforms beside the tracks at Siu Ho Wan depot.

Emergency platforms near Siu Ho Wan depot

And an unused platform for future expansion at Airport station.

Unused platform on the Terminal 2 side of the citybound track at Airport station

Located on the Terminal 2 side of the citybound track, it is ready for the future expansion of terminal 2 to handle arriving passengers, not just departures.

More photos of the Airport Service Platform

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Baggage handing on the MTR Airport Express

The most novel feature of the MTR Airport Express service linking Hong Kong and Kowloon with Hong Kong International Airport is the “In-Town Check-In” service – drop off your baggage and receive a boarding pass from the airline counter at the railway station, and you’ll be reunited with them at your final destination. But how do the bags catch the train with you?

Passengers board a train to the city at Airport station

Genesis of the system

The In-Town Check-In (ITCI) service was part of the initial plans for the Airport Railway.

The feasibility study showed that AEL ridership and revenues could be increased significantly by providing an In-Town Check-In (ITCI) service, so passengers could check-in their bags at a station and then travel unencumbered to the airport by the AEL. Studies confirmed that ITCI was feasible and could increase ridership. Unfortunately the requirement for Customs control at the airport, together with the size of any baggage reclamation facility, precluded the possibility of an In-Town Check-Out (ITCO) service.

To provide the ITCI service, the AEL train configuration was revised to include one baggage car at the end of each train, resulting in nine passenger cars and one baggage car. However, because no ITCO service could be provided on the return journey, no reduction in luggage space within the cars was possible.

Baggage security problems were resolved by introduction of a new bulk X-ray device, known as MAEDS (Mechanized Automatic Explosive Detection System) which was undergoing trials at a number of international airports. This system enables all baggage from all check-in desks to be screened in bulk in the baggage-handling hall rather than at the check-in. The great benefit is that only normal security and not ‘air side’ security is required within the MTR system. MAEDS has been adopted for some functions at the new airport and the ITCI has been planned accordingly.

Luggage trolleys are an essential feature of AEL stations. During early discussions with the Railway Inspectorate regulator for safety, it was decided that luggage trolleys could not be allowed on the trains. However, the stations have been planned to allow trolleys to be used to move luggage between platforms and carriages with full provision of lifts for those needing to change level. The ticket barriers have been designed to allow passage of passengers with trolleys and recirculation of empty trolleys away from the public.

Hong Kong station opened with 28 of 45 check-in counters, and Kowloon station with 33 of 83, allowing plenty of room for future expansion.

Moving the bags

The check-in counters at Hong Kong and Kowloon stations are located inside the paid area.

Ticket barriers outside the Kowloon station In Town Check-In desks

Baggage check-in closes 90 minutes ahead of the scheduled flight departure time – plenty of time, given the 24 minute travel time from Hong Kong station to the airport. The check in counters are just like those at the airport.

In Town Check-In counters at Kowloon station

Once checked in, bags pass along conveyor belts.

MTR photo

Where they are moved to the baggage handling area on the lower ground floor, where they are scanned by staff and loaded into baggage containers.

MTR photo

Which are then loaded onboard the baggage carriage. photo

The baggage handing section of the station is equipped with platform screen doors, just like the passenger platform.

Baggage handing room at the city end of Airport station

The baggage car being located at the Hong Kong end of each Airport Express train.

Hong Kong bound Airport Express train runs through Sunny Bay station

The five doors and lack of windows being the spotting feature.

Luggage car at the Hong Kong end of the MTR Airport Express train

13 luggage containers fit inside each carriage, sitting atop a system of transfer rollers.

Siu Ho Wan Depot 14
MTR photo

On arrival at Airport station, the train and platform doors open.

CCTV monitor looking over the baggage container handing room

And the baggage containers roll out of the train.

Unloading baggage containers at Airport station

With a CCTV system allowing the train captain to monitor the process.

The train has stopped, and the baggage containers are being moved off into the airport

The containers are sent down to the ground floor of the Ground Transportation Centre.

Diagram from The Arup Journal

Where the bags are unloaded from the containers.

Then moved via a tunnel into the terminal proper, where they enter the main airport baggage handing system.

Where they eventually end up beneath your aircraft.

Loading ULD cargo containers beneath a Dragonair jet

But what if something goes wrong

Bags are not necessarily transported on the same train as the passenger who checked them in – they take around 15 minutes to pass from check-in counter to train. Failures of the system are rare, but if they occur, the cut off time might be extended.

MTR services to Hong Kong International Airport disrupted by baggage system fault
9 December 2018
Disruption hit MTR services to Hong Kong’s airport for about an hour on Sunday, because of a fault with the baggage handling system at Airport station. Services were back to normal by 1.25pm.

The total journey time on the Airport Express from Hong Kong station to AsiaWorld-Expo station was extended by five to 10 minutes, according to an MTR Corporation announcement. In-town check-in services – which allow travellers to check in and drop bags at a station in Kowloon or on Hong Kong Island, before heading on to the airport – closed 180 minutes before flights, doubled from the usual 90 minutes.

In a statement at about 1.25pm, the corporation said: “The baggage handling system at Airport station has been repaired. Train service on the Airport Express and in-town check-in service is resumed normal.

But even a train breakdown need not delay the baggage – the MTR control centre has the option ro despatch an additional train to pickup waiting luggage and transport it to the airport, and luggage loaded onboard a failed train can be even transferred to a second train using the emergency platforms found at Sunny Bay and Nam Cheong stations.

Airport Express baggage container transfer rollers at the Sunny Bay emergency platform

A note on the containers

The baggage containers used on the Airport Express trains bear a resemblance to the ULD (unit load device) containers used onboard aircraft, except much smaller – so I think the resemblance is coincidental.

ULD container and a loose baggage dolly exit the terminal basement



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Transferring from land to sea at Hong Kong International Airport

Transferring from land to air transport is the reason airports exist, but Hong Kong International Airport offers a different mode of onward transport – sea.

Western end of Terminal 1 at Hong Kong International Airport

The airport is located on reclaimed land at Chek Lap Kok.

Overview of Hong Kong International Airport

With the ‘SkyPier’ ferry terminal located at the eastern end of the island.

Skypier and AsiaWorld-Expo at the eastern end of Hong Kong International Airport

Served by cross-boundary ferries to nine Mainland China and Macao ports across the Pearl River Delta.

CKS (Chu Kong Shipping) ferry arrives at the Hong Kong China Ferry Terminal

Changing from air to sea

Arriving air passengers follow the ‘ferry’ signage in the terminal.

Directional signage to immigration , baggage reclaim and ferry transfers

To the ferry boarding gate located before the immigration counters.

Here ferry tickets are checked.

Ferry boarding gate at Hong Kong International Airport

Next stop – the basement level automated people mover station.

All aboard!

Onboard the train: mostly standing room

From here it is a 550 metre tunnel to Terminal 2, followed by 650 metre tunnel to SkyPier.

Underground guideway between Terminal 1 and the Midfield Concourse

We now return to ground level.

Head to the departure lounges.

Where ferries are waiting.

The reverse journey from sea to air is much the same, except for the aviation security checks completed before boarding the people mover towards the airport terminal.

What about baggage?

Passengers transferring from air to sea don’t need to clear Hong Kong immigration or collect their baggage – airport staff collect them from the carousel.

Baggage carousel in the arrivals hall at Hong Kong Airport

Then load them into a ULD container, and take them via an internal road to the SkyPier terminal.

Airport Authority luggage tug transports a Chu Kong Passenger Transport baggage container from SkyPier to the airport

Where they are loaded onto the relevant ferry.

ULD containers of cargo ready to be loaded onto our ferry

Passengers for participating airlines have a similarly streamlined transfer experience in the reverse direction, being able to check their baggage and collect their boarding pass when boarding the ferry.

Further reading

Hong Kong International Airport video showing the SkyPier transfer experience.


Cheong Wing Road is used to transport baggage between Hong Kong International Airport and SkyPier – under the Road Traffic (Traffic Control) (Designation of Prohibited and Restricted Zones) Notice it is both a public road, and a zone in which the driving of the motor vehicles is prohibited.

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