Hong Kong high speed rail and the People’s Liberation Army

In 2016 an interesting conspiracy theory emerged in Hong Kong – would the new high speed rail link to Mainland China be used by the People’s Liberation Army to invade the Special Administrative Region?

The People’s Liberation Army Hong Kong Garrison arrived in 1997, and has approximately 5,000 personnel posted to the city.

PLA soldier guarding Shek Kong Camp, Hong Kong

On February 20 Hong Kong politician and social activist Lee Cheuk-yan asked about military use of the new railway at a meeting of the Finance Committee of the Legislative Council.

Finance Committee of the Legislative Council
Minutes of the 34th meeting
Saturday, 20 February 2016, at 11:10 am

Use of XRL for military purpose

Mr Lee Cheuk-yan enquired whether the People’s Liberation Army Hong Kong Garrison (“HK Garrison”) had the right to commandeer XRL for military purpose, and whether there was any passageway in the XRL’s Shek Kong Depot connecting to the Shek Kong Barracks of the HK Garrison. He opined that the authorities should provide a paper to explain the relationship between the Garrison Law and XRL.

Secretary for Transport and Housing (“STH”) advised that XRL was a civil railway and there was no passageway in the Shek Kong Depot connecting to the Shek Kong Barracks of the HK Garrison. He reiterated that the Garrison Law had clearly regulated the activities of the HK Garrison in Hong Kong.

At the same time, Hong Kong newspaper Apple Daily picked up on the theories:

High speed rail site at Shek Kong allegedly capable of transporting weapons
February 25, 2016

Another 「政治炸彈」(political bomb) of the high-speed rail is the Shek Kong military camp. The emergency emergency rescue station for the high-speed rail is located in Choi Yuen Tsuen next door to the Shek Kong military camp. After the completion of the high-speed railway, the Neo Democrats has questioned that this station can be used both for transporting troops and transporting weapons. Some mainland media also refer to the high-speed railway track as “military and civilian use.”

The Neo Democrats’ Tam Hoi Pong pointed out that the current Shek Kong military camp is used by the People’s Liberation Army. From the aerial camera, there are small roads connected to the military camp on the high-speed rail site, while the small road is less than 20 meters away from the military camp. The mainland military is used to use high-speed rail for military purposes.

The Neo Democrats said that it would raise relevant issues at the Finance Committee meeting of the Legislative Council, and oppose the additional funding of the high-speed rail. It does not agree to use the money of Hong Kong people to build a political bomb.

After which Gary Fan raised the question a second time.

Finance Committee of the Legislative Council
Minutes of the 38th meeting
Friday, 26 February 2016, at 6:30 pm

Alleged Military Use of the XRL Project

Mr Gary Fan claimed that there was a linking rail at the Shek Kong train depot near the Shek Kong barracks and the rail seemingly led to the Shek Kong barracks. He queried whether or not XRL would be requisitioned by the People’s Liberation Army for military uses.

Secretary for Transport and Housing (“STH”) padvised that the Administration had stressed many times that XRL was purely a transport infrastructure for civilian use and there was no consideration for military use. Dr Philco Wong, Projects Director, MTR Corporation Limited added that the road link did not go to the Shek Kong barracks but to the power distribution station for the purpose of maintenance of facilities. The power distribution station and the Shek Kong barracks were separated by iron wires.

The story gained momentum, as seen in this piece published by 本土新聞Local Press on March 4:

The People’s Liberation Army newspaper acknowledged that high-speed rail is a military infrastructure used as a fast transporter

“Now News” quoted the “People’s Liberation Army Daily” report that when the high-speed rail was built, there were absolutely military considerations to quickly transport troops. In the event of a war, the high-speed rail will become a means of transport for soldiers, light armies, artillery and other equipment. The report can be described as the tail pillow after the ghost shot, confirming the reason why the Hong Kong people speculated that the high-speed rail Hong Kong section must be built, not rational economic development, but because of irrational military rule.

Which led to the official Hong Kong Government News Network to publish a Facebook post on March 9 to deny the rumours.

Roughly translated:

The Transport and Housing Bureau has clarified the inaccurate online claims and rumours and that there is no basis for any statement that the construction of the Hong Kong section of the Guangzhou–Shenzhen–Hong Kong Express Rail Link may be related to military use.

But many Hong Kong people didn’t believe the denial, as detailed in this Stand News 立場新聞 piece.

High-speed rail can be personnel carriers? The Information Services Department said that there is no basis to the netizens post on the People’s Daily.
March 9, 2016

The Government News Network Facebook page uploaded a picture of a high-speed rail at 11 o’clock last night. The picture quoted the Housing Authority as saying that “the planning, design and construction of the high-speed rail section of Hong Kong is fully for civilian use and provides convenient cross-boundary transport services for passengers”

However, as soon as this post came out, the netizen immediately posted a message attached to the mainland official media “People’s Network” originally printed in the “People Liberation Army Daily” article entitled “Military transport security close to actual combat: to create a high-speed rail era “steel transport line”” report link The article includes “to avoid duplication of construction, the military agency focused on implementing the concept of military-civilian integration in the top-level design, embedding military functions in the construction of high-speed rail.” and other content to refute the government’s clarification.

The Information Services Department did not respond to the message, but many netizens commented on the government’s escort. Some people pointed out that “there is no need to use the railway. , waterways, aviation, the words are coming soon, and the People’s Liberation Army is protecting Hong Kong, transporting the People’s Liberation Army, and transporting the US Army or the Japanese Army!”

So could China use the high-speed railway to invade Hong Kong?

People’s Liberation Army deployments by high-speed train

China’s high-speed rail network has been available for the use of the People’s Liberation Army for some years.

People's Liberation Army 8X8 wheeled self-propelled gun loaded on a military train

With even Hong Kong’s Now News covering it when first publicised back in 2012.

The People’s Liberation Army refers to the rapid response of high-speed rail
May 25, 2012

The speed of development of high-speed rail in the Mainland has slowed down slightly since the Wenzhou train accident last year. However, many routes such as the Beijing-Shanghai high-speed railway are still open to traffic. It is still convenient for many people. The People’s Liberation Army disclosed for the first time that the high-speed rail was infiltrated with various military elements. Can be used to respond quickly.

The 1,318-kilometer-long Beijing-Shanghai high-speed railway was opened to traffic last year, greatly shortening the transportation time between Beijing, Tianjin, Shandong, Shanghai, etc., between the four provinces and three cities. This convenience is not only convenient for the people, the People’s Liberation Army Daily disclosed for the first time, the military is correct. Utilizing the advantages of high-speed rail, quick and convenient, the high-speed rail is positioned as an important way of strategic transportation in the future. Once a war occurs, the PLA can respond quickly according to the high railway line.

Traditionally, the military will use ordinary railway lines to transport heavy weapons such as tanks and missiles;

The high-speed rail is responsible for transporting soldiers, as well as light weapons such as rifles and recoilless guns.

The report also revealed that the national high-speed rail system has been integrated into military and civilian elements during design. In a short period of time, the civilian railway station can be turned into a military service, which greatly shortens the reaction time of the military. For example, in the expansion project of Nanjing Station, it used the war. The standard design allows the gate to be opened, allowing the soldiers to get on the platform as soon as possible.

The high-speed rail dispatching system is also transported to the military. The status of each train on the high-speed rail line is clear at the military transport dispatching center. If the PLA officers and soldiers enter the command in the system, they can control the high-speed rail system within ten minutes and join the military train on the line.

The People’s Liberation Army has also developed a gun rack that can be placed in the car box for the high-speed trains, the indoor space is larger than the traditional trains, and the structure is stable.

Because the doors on both sides of the high-speed rail can be opened at the same time, the military has developed a fast-moving and arranging array to improve the efficiency of getting on the train by 50%. So far, the high-speed rail has sent more than 43,000 soldiers to the destination on time.

At the beginning of May, the Nanjing Military Region tried to arrange a group of soldiers carrying light weapons to reach the destination by high-speed train. The soldiers could participate in the battle as soon as they arrived, increasing the PLA’s chances of winning.

And the China News Service ran a puff piece on a PLA training exercise in 2015.

High-speed rail transport: hundreds of troops from 52 minutes to 210 kilometers away from the “battlefield”
September 09, 2015
People’s Liberation Army Daily
Reporter Dai Wei, special correspondent Gao Jie

The military station of the Shanghai Railway Bureau is close to actual combat to improve the railway military transport support capability

In the midsummer season, a high-speed rail station in northern Jiangsu, a light-loaded force of hundreds of people, quickly boarded a high-speed rail train to a certain place in eastern Fujian. After 52 minutes, the light-loaded troops appeared in the “battlefield” 210 kilometers away, just like the gods and soldiers. Wang Pengyu, director of the Military Affairs Office of the Shanghai Railway Bureau, told the reporter: “‘China Speed’ has boosted the speed of military transport and achieved a rapid arrival in the battlefield.”

The soldiers are very fast. At present, the troops are frequently stationed in the field and non-war military operations. How to quickly and accurately transport the troops and personnel to each “battlefield” has become an urgent issue facing the party committee of the military representative office. It coincides with the opportunity of the great revolution and great development of the railway. The party committee of the military representative office has identified a rationale: “The railway is speeding up, and the military transportation guarantee must be closer to the actual speed!”

In order to avoid duplication of construction, the military agency focused on implementing the concept of military-civilian integration in the top-level design, embedding military functions in the construction of high-speed rail. At the beginning of the construction of the high-speed rail, they proposed the construction of the military service supporting system and sent engineering personnel to participate in the design of the high-speed rail construction plan. From platform construction to command and dispatch, more than 30 types of high-speed rail supporting facilities have been used by the military and civilians. It is reported that they have coordinated the construction plan of a station three times, and realized that as long as the connection port is opened during the war, several channels can directly reach the platform.

The military transportation dispatching command center of the military representative office also introduced the TIS transportation information system of the Shanghai Railway Bureau high-speed railway, and added the military dispatching function to realize the dual-use military and civilian use. The reporter opened the military dispatching program, and the status of each train on the high-speed rail line in the area of ​​the railway, the vacant line and the adjustable dialing skin can be seen at a glance, and the transmission scheme can be automatically generated by simply inputting a command.

The military transport is a “pioneer” and the guarantee is to win. There are 11 high-speed railways such as Beijing-Shanghai and Nanjing-Hangzhou in the Shanghai Railway Bureau, with a total mileage of more than 2,600 kilometers, which provides a solid foundation for the speed of military transportation. At the beginning of 2014, the military representative office received an emergency military oil transportation mission, requiring tons of oil to be transported on the passenger dedicated line. They creatively used the nighttime Hanging-line transportation period, and adopted fixed-line locomotives, fixed lines, and fixed-line dedicated line pick-up operations. For the first time, military freight trains were opened on the passenger-dedicated lines, creating a precedent for the entire army. For the first time, the military representative office organized the door-to-door express transportation of military materials at the passenger station. For the first time, it temporarily added high-speed trains to organize the entire line of transportation. This series of active explorations effectively tapped the potential of the “steel transportation line” and opened up Military transportation is a new way.

And what about Hong Kong

The Shek Kong stabling sidings and emergency rescue station are a massive complex, built to service to high-speed trains that use the new line.

While the emergency rescue station was built for trains to discharge passengers to another train in the event of mechanical problems, or as an evacuation path in case of fire.

And it’s big – three tracks and two island platforms, 430 metres long to service a full 16 carriage train, and five sets of staircases back to the surface.

So if you wanted to transport People’s Liberation Army troops into Hong Kong quickly, the ’emergency rescue station’ at Shek Kong beats anything with rubber tyres.

People’s Liberation Army enter Hong Kong following the 1997 handover


And before I wrote this piece, I though the joint customs and immigration checkpoint at the West Kowloon Terminus was enough of a political football!

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Charts and plans for Kai Tak Airport

Kai Tak Airport was once the international airport for Hong Kong, with the single runway and eight jetbridges somehow handing 30 million passengers and 1.5 million tonnes of freight per year, before it was replaced by the current Hong Kong International Airport at Chek Lap Kok in 1998. This diagram from 1988 shows how constrained the terminal building was.

Kai Tak Airport Terminal Floor Plan - Arrivals
Diagram via Joseph K.K. Lee

This aerodrome chart dated 1996 shows how the rest of the airport was no different.

With this aircraft parking and docking chart from the same period showing how the 63 aircraft parking bays were squeezed into every available piece of space.


The Civil Aviation Department has some background on the diagrams found above:

Upon the completion of Stage 4 development of the passenger terminal building in 1981, a study of the capacity of various facilities in the passenger terminal building revealed the need for the further expansion of the terminal to cope with air traffic forecast in the early 90s. The Stage 5 development of the terminal was commenced in 1984 and completed in 1988, increasing the design capacity to 18 million passengers per annum by adding terminal parking facilities, check – in counters and baggage reclaim units.

In 1987, to cater for the strong increase in air traffic at Kai Tak during its remaining life before the availability of the replacement airport, another series of expansion and improvement projects initiated. In 1991, Terminal 2 of the Hong Kong Air Cargo Terminal was commissioned providing an annual air cargo handling capacity of 1.5 million tonnes per annum. In 1992, the expansion of the East Apron which provided 4 additional parking bays for B747 – 400 aircraft and a general aviation aircraft parking area were completed. Finally, in 1994 an expansion of the South Apron provided 11 more parking bays for B747 aircraft. The design capacity of the airport reached 24 million passengers per annum.

In 1996, the Kai Tak Airport reached an important milestone when it handled 29.5 million international passengers and 1.56 million tonnes of international cargo making it the third busiest Airport in the world for international passengers and first in the world for international cargo throughput in the world.


The terminal diagrams dated 1988 were uploaded by Joseph K.K. Lee.

The charts dated 1996 were obtained by a Flight Sim airport designer via email from the Hong Kong Civil Aviation Department.

A cleaner version of these charts can be found in the unofficial information package compiled by the IVAO Hong Kong Division – in particular the aircraft parking and docking chart.

Charts for the current Hong Kong International Airport can be found in the Aeronautical Information Publication managed by the Hong Kong Aeronautical Information Services.

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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:


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.


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 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


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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