The other week I wrote about the the demise of rail freight in Hong Kong: so how about we take a look at where the freight trains actually served when they did run. Here is a full track diagram of the East Rail line – the following diagrams on this page are extracts of the same diagram.
Starting at the south end of the line, we find the main rail freight yard at Hung Hom. Here rail freight was transhipped to both road and sea transport, with cargo lighters carrying shipping containers to vessels anchored on Victoria Harbour (I wrote more about this unique operation a few months ago in All at sea: container handing in Hong Kong). The freight terminal itself dates to the construction of the adjacent railway station in the 1970s on reclaimed land at Hung Hom Bay, and was operated by the KCR Corporation until it was merged into the MTR Corporation in 2007.
The freight sidings are located on the eastern side of the passenger station at Hung Hom and cover around 5 hectares. Originally open to the sky, in 1997 work started on the construction of a concrete deck over the tracks to enable the use of the airspace. Completed in 2002, the “Metropolis” development comprises a three-level shopping mall at podium level, topped with a 15-storey office block, two 17-storey serviced apartment towers with 1324 flats, and the Harbour Plaza Metropolis Hotel with 690 guest rooms and suites (more detail here).
This diagram from the previously mentioned website shows the track layout, not to scale, mainland China is to the right.
At the southern end of Hung Hom a few tracks emerge from under the podium, and run towards the wharves. Today the area is still used as a container terminal, but served by road only.
These tracks beside the water were the delivery location for much of the KCR fleet of EMUs, with carriages being lifted out of the boat and onto the tracks.
The other siding of note at Hung Hom was the International Mail Centre, where bulk mail would be loaded and unloaded from baggage vans.
In the final years of freight trains watching the shunt move at the International Mail Centre was a popular pastime for local railfans, with the forecourt of the Hong Kong Coliseum providing a convenient viewing location of the entire area.
At the other end of the podium are a few more dead end sidings, located at the north end of the freight yard, between the yard lead for the freight terminal and the main passenger tracks to Hung Hom station. When I paid a visit in 2010 the sidings were being used to store way and works vehicles, but I have seen many photos of locomotives stabled between jobs in the same location.
Over on the eastern side of the yard lead is a two road engine shed, which seems to be the main maintenance depot for the diesel locomotive fleet on the East Rail line. Unfortunately all of the road bridges in the make it difficult to get a clear shot of trains in this location.
As for the yard lead itself, it continues some distance north from Hung Hom station before it rejoins the main line.
The north end is also the site of the final group of sidings in this area: the Ho Man Tin freight yard. Located on the western side of the line on the alignment of the original line to Kowloon Station, the sidings were also known as the “Rail Livestock Depot” for the traffic they handled.
After a new slaughterhouse opened near the border at Sheung Shui in 2000 and the pig traffic to Ho Man Tin ended, the sidings appear to have been handed over to the maintenance division of the KCR, who used it to stable track machines and other non-revenue rolling stock. As of 2010 much of the yard appears to have been taken over by the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, who are expanding their campus onto the site.
The next station along the line, Mong Kok also has a small freight terminal hiding beneath the station podium. Consisting of a single loop siding, it is on the west side of the station and connected back to the mainline via the side platform road, with gates over the entrances.
By the time of my visit the freight yard had been leased out to a beer distributor: this is the gate at the north (Kowloon Tong) end.
Here is the road entrance, also hidden beneath the building podium (photo via Wikipedia).
It takes a few more stations to find the next freight siding, which is on the other side of the mountains at Sha Tin. Today they lay empty.
Here three dead end sidings fan out from the western side of the station, with connections provided back to the mainline at both ends.
Their last use appears to be back in the mid-2000s, when the yard at Sha Tin was the home of a large collection of track machines and way and works wagons, displaced due to the rebuilding of their usual home at Fo Tan Depot. (photo via Wikipedia)
Only one station along the line from the freight yard at Sha Tin, the station at Fo Tan also had a small freight terminal. With two dead end sidings facing north towards the border with China, they once served an adjacent warehouse complex but today lay empty.
A slaughterhouse at Sheung Shui opened in 2000 to cater for Hong Kong’s appetite for pork, with pigs being shipped across the border by train from farms in China. The sidings are on the eastern side of the railway line just north of the passenger station at Sheung Shui: I am unsure if freight trains still serve the slaughterhouse, or if road transport has taken over.
The final yard on the East Rail line is at Lo Wu, just south of the border with China. Consisting of a number of long sidings on the western side of the mainline, forming a marshalling yard. The diagram below has the Sheung Shui sidings to the bottom left, the Lo Wu sidings to the top, and the border with China to the right.
Freight trains from the Mainland usually stopped at Lo Wu to swap their Chinese locomotives with KCR units, and to rearrange the wagons into the correct order for the trip south. With the small size of the freight terminals elsewhere on the East Rail line and the lack of shunting necks, time spent remarshalling the train here would cut the time spent blocking passenger trains on the mainline during shunt moves carried out further south.
Unfortunately for railfans access to the Lo Wu yard appears difficult due to the location in Hong Kong’s Frontier Closed area: due to the location close to the China border only local residents are allowed access. From looking at Youtube one popular viewing spot was the hill a short distance to the south, which provided an overview of the entire marshalling yard.
With freight trains having stopped over a year ago, the future of the rail freight terminals in Hong Kong is uncertain. The waterfront land at Hung Hom will most likely be the first sites to be redeveloped, with various plans floated by the government for the site.