Out in the middle of the north-west New Territories is the MTR Light Rail network: it is a very different system to the double deck trams on Hong Kong Island, which is the trams that tourists usually see. The route map shows how complex it is!
Running between the New Towns of Tuen Mun and Yuen Long, the system was built by the Kowloon-Canton Railway Corporation, commencing operation in 1988 to serve the then-developing suburbs. The network originally served as the main transport system in the area, but with the opening of the West Rail Line in 2003, the network of routes was rearranged to serve as a feeder system to the new railway.
Single car light rail vehicles (LRVs) are used, but they can be operated as coupled pairs. They use standard gauge (1435 mm) track and 750V DC electrification: the standards used on most modern light rail networks. There are four different ‘phases’ of LRV that look slightly different but have the same general design: I’ll go into rolling stock further in a future post.
The majority of the network is double track and separated from traffic, running at grade, usually on one side of the road. Left hand running is always used, except for the complicated track at a few termini.
Level crossings are usually traffic light controlled.
A few sections run down the middle of the road in reserved track: this is on Castle Peak Road in Yuen Long.
A small proportion of track runs on viaducts: this is the approach to Tuen Mun station.
Street running with paved tracks seems to be very rare: I found this piece of single track at Yau Oi, which is the terminus of route 751.
All LRVs on the network are single sided, with all doors belong located on the left hand side.
High level platforms are provided at all light rail stops, providing step free access to the high floored LRVs. Virtually all stops have side platforms: the single sided doors rule out island platforms except where complicated track arrangements exist.
For the same reason each terminus needs a balloon loop to get the LRV facing the right way for the return journey. Some loops are tight like this one, others (like the one at Yau Oi mentioned earlier) take an easier route by running around the block.
The curves on the network seem to be rather extreme for something 30 years old and built in a modern city. This is the exit from Yuen Long station, and yes, these two trams are still coupled together!
The majority of intersections are ‘T’ shaped, with full triangular junctions. (no grand unions unfortunately). I found it interesting that “V-Tag” automatic points are provided at the facing points: this is the same system used in Melbourne. The indicator on the right has ‘horizontal’ (pending operation), ‘left facing’ (turn left) and ‘right facing’ (turn right) indicators: the only difference seems to be that the ‘horizontal’ indicator is red instead of white.
The only other signalling I found on the network was ‘T’ lights at intersections. A red ‘T’ indicates stop, while a white upward arrow indicates proceed.
LRVs close in on each during peak times, with nothing stopping them.
At each light rail stop the time until the next service is displayed, the screens are also nice enough to tell you whether a single LRV or a coupled pair is coming along. The final cherry on top is the alternating English and Chinese text – they do everything!
Fares can be paid in two ways. A single trip ticket can be purchased from the ‘Single Journey Ticket Issuing Machine’. First you need to work out what zones you are going to pass through. Then push the button corresponding to the first zone, then push the “+” button to add any additional zones. Full and concession fares have an entirely different set of zone buttons – the network map does not make the machine look any less complex!
The other option is using an Octopus card. At each stop ate two fare processors: orange processors are used to ‘touch on’ before boarding a LRV, green processors are for ‘touch off’ on leaving.
To ensure compliance with the open barrier system, MTR staff travel the network, waiting on platforms with Octopus card readers to ensure passengers leaving have actually validated their card on entering the system. Within 1 hour I saw inspectors at three different locations, so it appears they do not mess about. An interesting passage from the MTR website relating to the open fare system:
The primary objective of ticket inspections is to ensure that honest, fare-paying passengers do not have to subsidise fare evaders.
Passengers found without a validated Octopus Card or a valid single trip ticket don’t get fined, but just pay a “surcharge” – set at 50 times the maximum adult single fare!
In all, the Light Rail network seems to be an odd mix of the modern systems seen in Europe, combined with ‘old fashioned’ single car high floored trams. The rolling stock also has a connection to Melbourne’s Z class trams and the Comeng factory at Dandenong, but that is a story for another day…