1970s KCR proposal for double deck carriages

For decades the Kowloon–Canton Railway was a quiet single track railway, with a handful of passenger trains heading along the line linking the villages of the New Territories to the urban heart of Kowloon. But the development of the New Towns during the 1970s saw the role of the railway change, which led to an interesting proposal – double deck passenger carriages.

Photo from ‘Comeng Volume 3: 1966 – 1977’ by John Dunn

It was intended for these new locomotive hauled carriages to replace the single deck carriages then used on the KCR, enabling more passengers to be carried per train, removing the need for costly track duplication or electrification works.

Kowloon Canton Railway KCR - EMD G12 locomotive No. 54
Photo via this blog.

The full story can be found in chapter 14 of the book ‘Comeng: A History of Commonwealth Engineering Volume 3: 1966 – 1977’ by John Dunn.

In 1970 the executives of the British section of the Kowloon–Canton Railway began a radical rethink of the Railway’s future. A government steering committee was set up in 1972 to examine the changes needed to promote freight and passenger growth between Hong Kong and mainland China on their standard-gauge 35 km line from Kowloon and Shenzhen (on the Chinese border). It was intended to construct large new towns at Sha Tin, Tai Po, Sheung Shui and Fanling in the New Territories. These developments would significantly increase the daily commuter traffic on the KCR.

In 1972 KCR called for expressions of interest for high-capacity commuter trains to cope with this expected increase in traffic. Up to that time KCR trains were locomotive-hauled using diesel-electric units built by Clyde Engineering. The man in charge of the new rolling stock project was engineering manager Clement Chui, who came to Sydney in July to look at Comeng’s double-deckers. He was strongly in favour of double-deckers and so John Dunn was assigned to come up with the proposed train layouts.

There were three car types:

  • Second-class, seating 120 and standing 239.
  • Third-class, seating 176 and standing 336.
  • Third-class with guard compartment, seating 160 and standing 326.

The latter car was also fitted with a packaged diesel generator unit to provide power for the lights and ventilation fans on the train.

This general arrangement diagram shows the layout of the proposed carriages.

Photo from ‘Comeng Volume 3: 1966 – 1977’ by John Dunn

As you can see, the proposal from Comeng was similar to that of the double deck electric multiple unit trains built for the suburban railways of Sydney, Australia during the early 1970s.

S92 climbs the Flying Junctions bound for Central

But a number of modifications were required to suit the local infrastructure:

Since there were no high platforms on the KCR at that time, the cars had to have doors at the ends with steps to give access to and from the low platforms. It was the first time this type of double-deck car had been conceived — the arrangement being necessary to avoid interrupting the load-carrying side sills along the bottom deck below the windows. Although many European double-deckers had doors giving access to the lower deck, this was not a proposition in this KCR proposal.

However the proposal came to nought:

The double-deckers never eventuated, even though Clement Chui recommended them and pushed hard for their acceptance. Because the KCR was a ‘British’ railway the decision-makers favoured the ‘old school tie’ and were keen to back the car builders in England rather than anyone in Australia. It is also probably true that since the British had no experience with double-deckers they opted for a type of train which had been tried and proven back home.

Instead a more conventional investment program was selected – double-tracking and electrification of the railway from Hung Hom to Lo Wu and the upgrading of stations with high platforms, served by a fleet of single deck EMUs built by Metro Cammell of the UK. This work was completed by 1983.

Photo by Joseph K.K. Lee / gakei.com

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7 Responses to 1970s KCR proposal for double deck carriages

  1. Tom Pang says:

    It makes sense. Having lived in both Sydney and Hong Kong (in fact I just returned from a 12 day holiday in HK just a few days ago) why I think the double decker system would work in Sydney and not in HK, and vice versa.

    Due to the way double decker train carriages seem to be made (doors at both ends leading to steps that go both up and down to the upper and lower decks respectively), it wouldn’t have worked well in Hong Kong due to the sheer mass flow rate of people found in the MTR system, bottlenecking at the “mere” 2 doors at the ends of a carriage. It was more efficient to cram standing people like sardines in a can into a single deck carriage, with alternating doors and windows and few seats.

    The high density of HK meant that despite the high population, commuting time was remarkably fast compared to a place like Sydney with its spread out populations and massive suburban areas. In the case of Sydney, due to the long commuting time (my father takes 40 minutes to commute from a mid North Shore suburb to Central station, and that’s considered pretty lucky) cramming people like sardines becomes unfeasible and instead, seats are installed. Suburban stations have no where near the flow of people experienced in any MTR Hong Kong station, meaning the bottleneck at the doors won’t be so much of a problem as it would be if it was used in Hong Kong.

    Tom Pang

    Planes, trains and rocket enthusiast born in HK, living in Australia.

  2. William Yim says:

    The double decker carriages really looks like the City rail S set in Sydney ! However, as you may see that both of them were designed or manufactured by Comeng. I believe that they are probably sharing the design.

    • The Comeng design for the KCR was very much a speculative piece of work, with no guarantee of winning the contract, so basing it on something they already built would’ve been the easiest option.

  3. Geoffrey Hansen says:

    I understand that one of the through trains is a double decker. Is that the only double decker train that has run in Hong Kong?
    How similar is the through train to the double deck trains in NSW?
    I also understand that Adelaide toyed with double deck carriages.

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