Underground Iron – Building the Hong Kong MTR

I’ve previously written a great deal about the MTR network of Hong Kong, but how was it built and constructed? The 1986 documentary titled Underground Iron – The Building of a Railway tells the entire story – originally produced by the Mass Transit Railway Corporation, you can find the complete 30 minute film on YouTube divided up into five sections. Thankfully for us the narration is in English!

The first segment covers the history of Hong Kong and how people got around before the MTR:

  • 1:00 Hong Kong Tramways
  • 1:40 Star Ferry
  • 2:30 Introduction to the MTR, including train and station footage
  • 6:00 Hong Kong population growth
  • 7:00 History of Chinese refugees entering Hong Kong

Part two covers the early planning for the MTR, up until the opening of the Modified Initial System.

  • 0:00 1960s growth in Hong Kong, dragon boat racing and the motion picture industry
  • 0:30 Housing and land reclamation
  • 1:00 Typhoon season
  • 2:15 Road network issues, and no available land for expansion
  • 3:00 1970s planning for a mass transit system
  • 4:30 Clichéd spinning newspapers
  • 4:50 Original plans for the Initial System built by a Japanese consortium
  • 5:20 Construction work starts in 1975
  • 6:00 MTR Corporation to build residential and commercial developments on their land
  • 6:35 Construction at ground level
  • 7:10 Down in the tunnels
  • 7:20 Building stations under Nathan Road in Kowloon
  • 7:30 Floating out the immersed tubes for the tunnel under Victoria Harbour
  • 7:20 Track testing inside the tunnels
  • 8:40 Opening ceremony in 1979

Next up and we see Hong Kong enter a boom period during the 1980s, and the work start on stage 3 of the MTR network – the Island Line.

  • 0.00 Introduction to Hong Kong commerce
  • 0.50 MTR Island Line and the 1980s boom
  • 1.40 Telford Gardens development in Kowloon Bay
  • 2.10 MTR head office and workshops at Kowloon Bay
  • 3.00 Tsuen Wan housing and line extensions
  • 3.20 MTR Island Line planning
  • 3.55 Preparation works along the Island Line
  • 4.10 Tunnelling beneath Hong Kong Island
  • 5.30 Draughtsmen and computers working on the design
  • 6.25 A look at the different station and concourse construction methods used on the Island Line

Part four focuses on the MTR Island Line construction:

  • 0.00 Tunnelling shields for the Island Line
  • 2.00 Use of lasers for tunnel alignment
  • 2.15 Compressed air tunnelling with airlocks, segmental linings and spoil removal
  • 2.35 Removal of spoil on barges
  • 3.00 Concourse works, breaking up granite with explosives to form caverns
  • 3.45 Breakthrough at Causeway Bay between the concourse and platform tunnels
  • 4.55 Tunnelling in firm soil using the New Austrian Tunnelling method
  • 5.45 Airlocks for workers

Part five ends at 1985 and rounds out the documentary, marking the completion of the MTR network as originally planned: after 10 years of construction and a total spend of HK$25 billion.

  • 0.00 Station completed and scrapping of tunnelling shields
  • 0.15 Station platforms and the completion of civil works
  • 0.30 Tunnel incidents, subsidence and water leaks
  • 1.10 Removing a hill for the Tai Koo housing development
  • 1.45 Tai Koo Station, the largest man made cavern in Asia at 250 metres long and 25 metres wide
  • 2.25 1983, and work winds down on tunnelling
  • 2.55 Fit out of stations, electrical works and track took 18 months
  • 3.20 Escalator being inserted into an adit
  • 3.25 Diesel locomotive in tunnel, as well as a rail grinder
  • 3.45 Opening of Island Line, marking the end of work on the MTR
  • 4.20 MTR train footage
  • 4.40 End credits
  • 5.15 Companies that assisted in the production
  • 5.30 List of companies involved with MTR construction
  • 7.50 Random historical footage of Hong Hong

The soundtrack for the documentary is in two parts – the first half covering the history elements features the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra performing Beethoven’s Egmont Overture, Op. 84, while the second portion with the construction footage uses the tracks Horizons and Logos by German electronic music group Tangerine Dream.

Cantonese version

There is also a Cantonese version of Underground Iron – The Building of a Railway: on YouTube it is divided up into three 9 minute segments:

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2 Responses to Underground Iron – Building the Hong Kong MTR

  1. Nathan Heung says:

    Need to make a correction on the total cost of the MTR at 1985. Subtitles said “250” but our narrator had said HK$25 Billion

    Hope it helps and thank you for this lovely companion article to the video

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