Railfanning on the MTR East Rail line

After ‘What should I go and see in Hong Kong?‘ the most common question I am asked is ‘Where can I go to take photos of trains in Hong Kong?’. So here is a cleaned up version of an email I sent to a reader some time ago, detailing photography locations along the MTR East Rail Line.

Passing the lake at Tai Po Kau

Background information

Photography from the platforms didn’t seem to be an issue. The only time anyone said anything was when I was photographing the signals at Mong Kok East station: someone came down and asked me (in English) what I was up to photographing the equipment. I said I was one holiday and interested in trains, they said that was okay and let me continue.

During my trip I spent a few afternoons lineside along the East Rail line: most of the time I was catching the train and walking, but one afternoon I borrowed a bike from my cousins and rode from near University station up towards Tai Po. The area around Tai Po Kau is nice, but at long way away if you were to walk from a railway station. (more about bike rental at the HK Cycling Alliance website)

As for timetables for the Through Trains, the MTR website doesn’t list intermediate times – only Hung Hom. I usually allowed 15 minutes for Hung Hom – Sha Tin, and another 15 minutes for them to reach Fanling. Timekeeping is rather loose, so I made sure I turned up earlier than I expected the train to turn up. Sometimes they seemed to be 30 minutes or so late. The Guangdong train is run by either the KTT push-pull set, or the loco hauled carriages. The printed timetable I had said if the KTT was operating a given service. Usually the SS8 electric locos were used, I did see the DF11 diesels a few times back in December 2010, but I was told seeing diesels is not normal.

There are also the Beijing and Shanghai trains, the alternate day to day. Timekeeping for them is even worse, probably because they travel so far to get to Hong Kong. The main difference from the Guangdong train is the carriages: the Beijing / Shanghai carriages have side skirts, and look more white than blue. You can find the timetables on Wikipedia:

If standing on the platform, the next train displays will tell you when a non-stopping train is coming. Most of the time it will be a through train. The Chinese version of “not stopping” is 5 characters, the usual station names are only 2 or three.

"Not stopping" on the display at Mong Kok East The Chinese version of "Non Stopping Train" on the display

Another thing to keep an eye out for is the ex-KCR locomotive fleet. You can usually see one loco stabled at the way and works depot near Fo Tan station.

Loco 62 at Fo Tan Depot

Exit Fo Tan station at the south end, take the east exit, cross the road towards “Fo Tan Railway House” and cross the foot bridge that heads east.

You can also find diesel locomotives lurking around the depot at Hung Hom: exit the station to the bus interchange, then look over the edge of the station deck onto the track below, where the freight yard is.

Locomotive depot at Hung Hom

One chance to see the diesels out on the main line is between 3pm and 3.30pm each day (I’m not sure if it is just weekdays, or weekends as well). A light engine move leaves Hung Hom around 3pm to 3.30pm for Fo Tan station, the locos get serviced at Hung Hom but the works trains are based out of Fo Tan.

Now for photo locations

Shooting from the “opposite” platform can be troublesome: with the normal MTR EMUs running so frequently they will probably block your shot, which is a pain.

Hung Hom is pretty constrained, lots of overhead stanchions and buildings in the way.

Either end of the Mong Kok East northbound platform works, but you will need a telephoto lens (100mm or more). The shot is pretty “head on”.

Train under the noise barriers at Mong Kok East

Kowloon Tong is rather tight for getting any photos.

Exiting the Beacon Hill tunnel at Kowloon Tong

Tai Wai is a boring straight platform.

Sha Tin has a footbridge at the south end which isn’t too far to walk. I didn’t try it myself.

The stretch of line between Sha Tin and Fo Tan is walkable, and there are a number of footbridges across the line you can shoot from. The walls on the bridges are rather high, I am about 6 foot tall and had a bit of trouble seeing over. A highway parallels the railway on this stretch. I took a number of photos from there.

Southbound KTT between Fo Tan and Sha Tin stations

Just south of Fo Tan is a spot at ground level. The metal picket fence is about 5 foot high, you can either shoot over the top, through the bars, or step back from it. Exit the station to the south, take the east exit, instead of crossing the road to Fo Tan Railway House, follow the footpath south. It goes downhill, and you end up at the railway.

SS8 0173 leads out of Fo Tan southbound

Just south of University station is a footbridge above a curve: exit the station to the south-east, follow the footpath along the railway, there will be steps up to after a while.

SS8 0173 leads through the curves near University station

There is another footbridge a bit further south from the previous spot, but I’m not a big fan of it – the road gets in the way.

Chinese diesel hauling a northbound Through Train

At University station itself you can get a shot in either direction, there are sharp curves at each end. You just have to be lucky to not have a train on the other track.

SS8 0186 northbound at University station

I mentioned Tai Po Kau earlier, where the railway exits a tunnel then runs beside a lake, then over a creek. It is a decent bike ride to get there from anywhere else, but a very scenic area.

Through Train lakeside at Tai Po Kau

Double deck carriages of the KTT set

If you ride to Tai Po Kau from University station via the Tolo Harbour bike path, there is an elevated embankment near Science Park, where you can get a clear photo over the lineside fences.

KTT passes Science Park northbound

I didn’t spend any time at Tai Po Market or Tai Wo stations, so can’t say much there.

Between Tai Wo and Fanling looks nice from the train, but the area is very isolated, so I didn’t check it out.

Finally, between Sheung Shui and Fanling is a long piece of straight track, there is a footbridge to the north of Fanling that I spent a while at. Exit the station to the north-east, follow the road headed north past the sporting ground and the swimming pool, and the ramp should be right ahead.

SS8 0186 southbound between Sheung Shui and Fanling

I hope the above helps somebody else out!

Google Map

Here is a map showing each of the locations detailed above, as well as the walking / cycling route from the nearest MTR station.

View Railfanning on the MTR East Rail line in a larger map


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2 Responses to Railfanning on the MTR East Rail line

  1. Herb Fong says:

    If every train in Hong Kong had a transparent driver cab door like those on the Disneyland Resort Line, then railway photography would be a lot better!

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