MTR Through Trains and the Express Rail Link

September 2018 saw first high-speed train service travel between between Hong Kong and Mainland China, following the opening of the the new Express Rail Link and the new West Kowloon Terminus. So what has happened to the locomotive hauled Intercity Through Trains and their terminus at Hung Hom?


Photo by Philip-Fong/AFP

My initial thought was that the Intercity Through Trains would be redirected to the new railway, removing the need for overtaking moves on the East Rail line, and freeing up track capacity for more MTR services.

In Mainland China conventional and high speed trains often share the same stations.

Looking down on platforms 12 and 13

The Wikipedia article on the West Kowloon Terminus suggested both long and short distance trains would use the new terminal:

West Kowloon Station features 9 long distance platforms and 6 short haul regional platforms, giving a total of 15 platforms.

  • Long distance trains will be 16-cars long and use platforms on the east side of the station: 9 tracks with 4 island platforms and 1 side platform.
  • Short distance trains will be 8-cars long and use platforms on the west side of the station: 6 tracks with 5 island platforms and 2 side platforms, with separate boarding and alighting platforms.

With the MTR’s Express Rail Link website listing the destinations served by the new railway.

Short-distance services

  • 4 trains per hour to Futian and Shenzhen North
  • 1 train per hour to Humen
  • 2 trains per hour to Guangzhou South

Long-haul services

  • 13 trains per day to 16 major Chinese cities, including Beijing West, Shijiazhuang, Zhengzhou East, Wuhan, Changsha South and Shanghai Hongqiao.

The Mass Transit Railway also purchased nine 8-car high speed trains for use on the new line – named Vibrant Express (Chinese: 動感號) to the same design as the existing CRH CRH380A train.

But a few months after the new express rail link opened, and MTR Intercity Through Trains continue to run from Hung Hom station.

MTR electric locomotive TLS002 leads the southbound KTT service into the Hung Hom terminus

With no mention of service changes on the MTR website.

And train travel website The Man in Seat 61 listing three options to travel from Hong Kong to Beijing.

  • Option 1, by direct classic sleeper train. Arguably the nicest & cheapest way between Beijing and Hong Kong is the classic sleeper train. This takes 24 hours (an afternoon, a night and a morning) and runs every two days, with soft & hard sleepers & restaurant car.
  • Option 2, by direct high-speed train in just 8h58. The Guangzhou-Kowloon high-speed line opened on 23 September 2018, allowing direct high-speed trains to link Beijing and Hong Kong at up to 350 km/h (217 mph).
  • Option 3, by high-speed sleeper train. Take a high-speed Vibrant train to Guangzhou South, then a D-category high-speed sleeper to Beijing. This involves one simple same-station change of train, but it’s arguably the most practical and time-effective option of all.

So how long will locomotive hauled trains continue on the MTR East Rail line? The new Shatin to Central Link works at Hung Hom have left space for them, so who knows.

Another theory

Over on the HKiTalk forums I found another theory:

The design of the Hong Kong section is only suitable for the EMU. The loading gauge of the underground tunnels is too small for SS8 locomotives and 25T carriages, and their axle load is too high

True? I can’t be sure, but it sounds logical.

My readers weigh in

@tzk1810 on Twitter explains why the existing Through Trains can’t use the new line.

And a different track connection

In 2012 citizen media outlet InMediaHK mentioned a rail link called the ‘羅湖分岔綫’ (‘Lo Wu Bifurcation’).

Stub tunnels for this link were provided in the Express Rail Link mainline.

But the MTR states they have no plans to complete the link any time soon.

But the MTR Corporation said the plans were a ‘nominal provision’ to allow for the possibility of an extension in future on a line expected to operate for more than 100 years.

‘This does not mean that there is an actual plan for such extensions as there is no such need at present,’ an MTR spokesman said.

The MTR did study having the express rail services use the existing line to the mainland, which runs via Lo Wu, but there was no plan for a spur line, the spokesman said.

The Transport and Housing Bureau also said there was no plan for an extension, though a spokesman said it would ‘regularly review the long- term railway needs of Hong Kong and will consult the public when updating the long-term blueprint’.

Footnote – platforms at the West Kowloon Terminus

Here is a diagram of the track and platform layout, included in a 2012 ArchDaily article.

The Wikipedia article on the West Kowloon Terminus explains the track layout:

West Kowloon Station features 9 long distance platforms and 6 short haul regional platforms, giving a total of 15 platforms.

  • Long distance trains will be 16-cars long and use platforms on the east side of the station: 9 tracks with 4 island platforms and 1 side platform.
  • Short distance trains will be 8-cars long and use platforms on the west side of the station: 6 tracks with 5 island platforms and 2 side platforms, with separate boarding and alighting platforms.

And here it is overlayed on the surrounding neighbourhood.

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