A railfan’s look at the Hong Kong Tramways

Welcome aboard everyone, it’s time to take a trip along Hong Kong Island by double deck tram. With a total system length of around 30 kilometres, the network runs along the northern shore of Hong Kong Island from Kennedy Town at the west end to Shau Kei Wan to the east, passing through the busiest parts of the city.

Tram #105 on Hong Kong Island

When opened in 1904 the tracks ran along the island shoreline, but subsequent land reclamation has left the tram some distance inland. The majority of the system is double track, except for a single track loop around the racecourse at Happy Valley. While the trams themselves have controls at both ends, the system is a unidirectional one, so reversing loops and provided at the end of the line and at a number of intermediate termini along the system.

Hong Kong Tramways 1996 track diagram

Travel times are relatively long, but trips along the entire line are rare, as the MTR Island Line parallels much of it. As for the trips I made:

  • Central to Happy Valley: 40 minutes (in evening peak)
  • Shau Kei Wan to Causeway Bay: 60 minutes
  • Causeway Bay to Admiralty: 25 minutes
  • Central to Kennedy Town: 30 minutes

This map gives you an idea of the distances involved.

Hong Kong Tramways map

Making an end-to-end trip on the system is not easy, apart from taking 90 minutes to complete one way, only a handful of trams travel the entire length of the line. Instead, the network consists of a number of routes that start at the outer end and overlap on the busiest section of the tramway, located between Western Market and Causeway Bay, in order to provide a higher level of service to the busier areas of the network. The routes are split over eastbound and westbound maps, and are as follows:

  • Shaukeiwan ↔ Western Market
  • Shaukeiwan ↔ Happy Valley
  • Shaukeiwan ↔ Kennedy Town
  • North Point ↔ Shek Tong Tsui (Whitty Street)
  • Happy Valley ↔ Kennedy Town
  • Causeway Bay ↔ Shek Tong Tsui (Whitty Street)

The destination of each tram is displayed on traditional canvas blinds at the front and rear of the tram, printed in both English and Chinese. Each destination also has a colour combination assigned to it, making it easier for passengers to pick out which tram they need.

'Shaukeiwan 筲箕灣' on the destination blind of a Hong Kong tram

Here are the destinations that I found, ordered by distance along the network. There appears to be some logic to the colours assigned: each combination is only seen once on eastbound services and once on westbound services, with the exception of Happy Valley which sees trams from both directions.

Shaukeiwan
筲箕灣
North Point
北角
Causeway Bay
銅鑼灣
Happy Valley
跑馬地
Western Market
上環 (西港城)
Whitty Street Depot
屈地街電車廠
Shek Tong Tsui
石塘咀
Kennedy Town
堅尼地城
Not in Service

As for the tramcars themselves,the most numerous are the “Fourth Generation” cars which were modernised in the 1980s. Of this class, two cars (#70 and #120) were built in 1991 to the original 1950s design, the most obvious spotting feature being the timber window frames.

Hong Kong trams #76 and #120 cross in Wan Chai

Another variant of tramcar are the open top vehicles used for charter services, numbered #28 and #128.

Open top Hong Kong tram #128 in Admiralty

The final type seen is service today are the “Millennium” or Fifth Generation cars. Numbered #168 to #171, these trams entered service in 2000 and were a radical change from the rest of the fleet, featuring streamlined bodies and a single piece windshield. The new design was not considered a success, with tram #168 being rebuilt in 2010 to resemble the older fleet.

Hong Kong tram #169 eastbound at Causeway Bay

From a photography perspective the scenery along the route varies: from old walk-up apartment blocks at Shau Kei Wa, cookie butter housing developments at Sai Wan Ho, shopping centres in Causeway Bay, and finally the glass and concrete of Admiralty, Central and Sheung Wan.

Hong Kong tram #68 trundles down the main street of Shau Kei Wan

Passing Hong Kong tram #99 at Sai Wan Ho

Hong Kong trams #79 and #66 cross at Causeway Bay

By Kennedy Town the streets have turned back into walk-up apartment blocks, looking much the same as those you left behind at Shau Kei Wan an hour and a half before.

If you are planning your own tramway photography expedition, you will end up spending a lot of time fighting shadows. With the trams running down narrow streets surrounded by tall buildings, getting a nice sunny photo takes one part location scouting, and another part good timing.

Hong Kong tram #59 catches the sun

Further reading

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4 Responses to A railfan’s look at the Hong Kong Tramways

  1. Yes, agree about the shadows. I managed to jag an acceptable photo or two during late arvo, while there was enough soft light around that still allowed a sharpish picture while the trams were still moving. Heading back to HK in November, so leeching stacks of info from this site. Keep it coming!

    • If you’re headed over in November that’s the same time I visited, the shadows are already growing long at 3.30 in the afternoon. Glad to hear you find it useful, I’ve got a few more articles planned on railfan spots around Hong Kong, so I’d better get a move on!

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