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.
And a 4.75 metre diameter tunnel.
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.
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’.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Then load them into a ULD container, and take them via an internal road to the SkyPier terminal.
Where they are loaded onto the relevant 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.