Until 2007 Hong Kong’s rail network was managed by two separate operators – the MTR Corporation that run the predominately underground network, and the Kowloon–Canton Railway Corporation that ran the above ground lines. A side effect of this was two separate fare structures, and a peculiar situation at one interchange station – ‘double sided’ ticket gates.
Four interchange stations existed between the MTR and KCR networks.
- Kowloon Tong: opened in 1979 with the MTR Kwun Tong line, it became an interchange station in 1982 following the opening of the KCR East Rail line platforms.
- Mei Foo: opened in 1982 on the MTR Tsuen Wan Line, and became an interchange station in 2003 with the opening of the KCR West Rail Line.
- Nam Cheong: opened as an interchange station in 2003 between the MTR Tung Chung and KCR West Rail lines.
- East Tsim Sha Tsui: opened in 2004 as the terminus of the KCR East Rail line, with a connection to the MTR Tsuen Wan line at Tsim Sha Tsui station.
Enter the rail merger
On 2 December 2007 the MTR and KCR networks were merged during a midnight ceremony.
Where KCR signs were removed from stations, exposing new MTR branding beneath.
One of the key parameters for the Government, when considering the Rail Merger, was to ensure that the Rail Merger created a seamless integration of travel between the MTR railway and KCR railway.
This would require, among other things, the removal of ticketing barriers at MTR and KCR interchange stations allowing passengers to travel from the KCR railway to the MTR railway (and vice versa) without the need to pass through intermediate ticket barriers or the need to pay a second boarding charge. The stations which will be affected by this process are Kowloon Tong, Nam Cheong and Mei Foo. The removal of such barriers is planned to be completed within 12 months after the Merger Date.
But physical works weren’t the only changes needed – integration of the two ticketing systems was also needed.
The “Day 2” changeover began with the trial for the Integrated Single Journey Ticket Automatic Fare Collection (AFC) System, which was launched on 28 September.
Single journey ticket passengers were able to enjoy reduced fares and travel within the whole MTR network using only one ticket, with the interchange ticket gates remaining in place when such passengers interchanged between the pre-merger MTR and pre-merger KCR systems at Kowloon Tong, Mei Foo and Nam Cheong stations.
Seven wall openings were created on the platform level of Nam Cheong Station to facilitate a convenient new cross-platform interchange for passengers from Hong Kong bound Tung Chung Line trains to the Tuen Mun bound West Rail Line.
To ensure smooth integration of the two different Single Journey AFC systems, more than 150,000 regularly used fare combinations were used to test software applications to confirm that proper fares were deducted.
With the successful completion of the trial, the progressive removal of 100 interchange ticket gates at the three interchange stations was completed by 10 November 2008. More than 150 Customer Service Ambassadors wearing yellow T-shirts were readily available to assist passengers to adapt to changes in the station layout at Kowloon Tong, Mei Foo and Nam Cheong stations.
Following the introduction of the integrated ticketing system, the fare gates were merely covered over.
With temporary signage above.
And temporary fencing defining the new interchange routes.
But it took over a month for them to be physically removed, leading to confused passengers in the meantime:
Rail users’ confusion about where to go when switching between former KCR lines and MTR services should come to an end this week when it begins dismantling the turnstiles passengers used to have to pass through.
They were turned off on September 28, when the MTR integrated the formerly separate charging systems, but since then thousands of passengers switching between lines have become confused and accidentally exited stations.
The MTR Corp has handed out more than 2,000 free single-journey tickets to transit passengers who made that mistake.
However, general manager Miranda Leung Chan Chi-ming said the situation was improving. ‘Passengers were not used to the changeover when it was first introduced, but they adapted quickly.’
Mrs Leung said the number mistakenly exiting stations quickly fell from 700 on the first day to between 100 and 200 a day.
Leading to the unified network seen today.
Station by station – Kowloon Tong
Kowloon Tong was the first MTR/KCR interchange station – opened in 1979 with the MTR Kwun Tong line, it became an interchange station in 1982 following the opening of the KCR East Rail line platforms.
With the KCR East Rail line above ground and the MTR Kwun Tong line belong, the Kowloon Tong was effectively two stations joined by long interchange passageways.
Chinese-language Wikipedia describes the original layout as:
There are three underground concourse are Kowloon Tong Station. The north and south concourses are used by the East Rail Line. Both of them have interchange links to the Kwun Tong Line concourse.
Interchange passengers would exit one station via the ticket gates, walk through a subway that was part of the unpaid area, then enter the second station – MTR Exit B1/B3 led to the KCR North concourse, while MTR Exit D led to the KCR south concourse.
Following the 2007 rail merger the unpaid and paid areas were modified, with the three concourses being joined into a single paid area. A parallel unpaid area was retained between the KCR north concourse and the MTR concourse, but the ability to move between the various MTR station exits via the unpaid area was removed.
Opened in 1982 on the MTR Tsuen Wan Line, Mei Foo became an interchange station in 2003 with the opening of the KCR West Rail Line.
Mei Foo operated as two stations linked by a long underground walkway.
Featuring multiple escalators.
MTR exit D1 connected the underground Tsuen Wan Line concourse to the above ground KCR West Rail concourse.
Following the 2007 rail merger, major changes were required in order to integrate the two paid areas – as described by the 閘區合併 page at ‘Hong Kong Railway Dictionary’:
- Fence installed between unpaid and paid areas in the interchange walkway,
- One of the four escalators near Tsuen Wan Line Exit D leading to West Rail Line concourse removed, reminder are classified as paid areas.
- Two lifts were built at the original site of the removed escalator and designated as a paid area.
- The lifts connecting Exit C2, interchange passage, and Tsuen Wan Line concourse are designated as paid areas, and separate gates and ticketing facilities are installed on the ground level.
- Since there is no non-paid area access to the C2 exit and the above-mentioned lifts in the station, the above-mentioned lifts were replaced were designated as new E exits.
- A new wheelchair lift was installed at the C2 exit to replace the above-mentioned lifts that previously provided barrier-free access to the non-paid area and ground level of the station.
- Initially Exit D between non-paid and paid area was not provided, but due to detouring passengers causing crowding elsewhere in the concourse, independent gates and ticketing facilities were later added to provide direct access.
- A new gate is added to the Tsuen Wan Line concourse near Exit C to facilitate passengers leaving the station. (The reason is the same as above)
Leading to the layout seen today.
Opened as an interchange station in 2003 between the MTR Tung Chung and KCR West Rail lines, Nam Cheong was the first shared-use integrated station between MTR and KCR networks.
The station concourse was divided into two parts, managed by the respective rail operators.
Special transfer fare gates were located between the two, enabling passengers paying with Octopus card to interchange between the two systems by tapping their card just once.
Following the 2007 rail merger these transfer fare gates in the middle of the concourse were removed, and passageways were added between platforms 1 and 4, providing a cross-platform interchange between the Tung Chung line Hong Kong-bound and West Rail line Tuen Mun-bound.
Giving the layout seen today.
East Tsim Sha Tsui station
Opened in 2004 as the terminus of the KCR East Rail line, East Tsim Sha Tsui station has a connection to the MTR Tsuen Wan line at Tsim Sha Tsui station.
But due to the distance between the two stations the interchange was “out of system” – passengers exit one station, then enter another to transfer.
Due to the complexity of the unpaid area subway network between the two stations, no changes were made following the 2007 rail merger.
- A diagram of the old concourse layout at Kowloon Tong station – found via the HKiTalk forums (Chinese language).
- 閘區合併 page at ‘Hong Kong Railway Dictionary’ (Chinese language).