There was once a time when Hongkong Post used the MTR East Rail line to transport mail across the border into Mainland China. This is the story of these trains.
Photo by MJ2927 via hkrail.fandom.com
The completion of the Kowloon Canton Railway in 1911 provided a new route for mail going into Mainland China, and starting from 1912, all mail between Great Britain and the Far East travelled by the Trans-Siberian Railway unless marked for sea mail.
In June 1980 the transport of mail by rail was sped up following the completion of the International Mail Center, located at Hung Hom next door to the new KCR terminus at Kowloon. The two-story complex of 13,160 square meters was equipped with a mechanised mail sorting system capable of handing 100 tonnes of mail every day, and had a dedicated railway platform for the transfer of mail onto trains.
The International Mail Centre remained the main sorting location for inbound and outbound mail until 1998, when Kai Tak Airport moved to Chek Lap Kok, and a new Air Mail Center was opened at Hong Kong International Airport.
Watching the shunt move at the International Mail Centre was a popular pastime for local railfans, with the forecourt of the Hong Kong Coliseum providing a convenient viewing location of the entire area.
But in the years that followed, the usage of rail freight in Hong Kong declined, and by 2008 rail freight accounted for only 0.08% of the total freight throughput between the Mainland and Hong Kong, with around 30 TEUs of containers a day, along with 3,000 kilograms of mail.
Towards the end of freight operations the longest trains consisted of 10 to 20 wagons, with a mix of enclosed boxvans and open wagons loaded with containers, upon which the white and orange liveried mail vans supplied by the China Railways would be attached.
But often it was just the single mail van making up the train.
Photo by 1010.505 via hkrail.fandom.com
And on some occasions, diesel locomotives outnumbered the wagons following behind!
Photo by MJ2927 via hkrail.fandom.com
The final nail in the coffin of Hong Kong rail freight was delivered in 29 October 2009, when the MTR (successor of the KCRC after the completion of the rail merger) announced that they would exit the freight business.
The MTR justified the decision as follows:
After careful study, the Corporation has decided to wind down its freight business over the next several months to better utilize train paths currently being used for the freight business to provide greater flexibility for passenger train service, benefiting the people of Hong Kong.
The International Mail Center at Hung Hom was forced to switch to road transport of mail to Mainland China.
With the final chapter coming in 2014, when the International Mail Center was demolished to make way for the Shatin to Central Link project.
Replaced by the newly built Central Mail Center at Kowloon Bay.
Footnote: mail vans
During the 1990s mail trains into Hong Kong used UZ22 postal carriages supplied by the China Railways, which were replaced by the newer UZ25B carriages by the time the service ceased running.
- Photo of a UZ22 mail carriage at Hung Hom in 1995
- Prototype information on the UZ22 mail carriage
- Prototype information on the UZ22T mail carriage
- HO scale model of a UZ22 mail carriage
- Paper model of a UZ22 mail car
- International Mail Center at Wikipedia (Chinese language)
- Hongkong Post history timeline
- Diesel trains enter the collective memory: The Sun (Chinese language)
- Topping out for Central Mail Centre: MTR press release
I want to comment on “photo of a UZ22 mail carriage at Hung Hom in 1995”. First of all, it was a great photo. Secondly, if you look at the photo carefully it is actually a XL22 baggage car. I can tell by the spacing of the flat rectangular window (those on the white paint just below the roof). In the UZ22 coaches there will be a total of four on each side of the coach. 2 will be near the front and 2 near end of the coach. In the XL22 coaches, however, there are a total of 5 such windows with 3 in between the doors and one to the left of one door and one to the right of the other door. A second difference is that in the XL22 coaches there are no main windows in between the 2 doors while in the UZ22 there are 3 windows in between the doors on each side of the coach.
The white-blue-white paint is especially interesting as it matched the colour of the RZ25 series coaches used in the Guangzhou – Hong Kong through trains in this period (1980s to the early 2000’s). Variations such as white-orange-white and a more rare white-green-white have also been seen running this line.
For those of you that want this white-blue-white XL22 mail carriage now is the time. MTC model trains just produced one last month. MTC is a Chinese model train manufacturer that sells through Taobao. MTC doesn’t have a website to my knowledge. If you go to Taobao and type in “MTC XL22” it will be the first item to appear. It’s a bit pricey but if you are a Hong Kong train fan like me its totally worth it. What’s also nice is that decal on the model is “Guangzhou bureau” to which many of the trains coming to Hong Kong from mainland China is registered.
Thanks for the clarification Eric, and the information about the different liveries – I’ve found some more photos of the XL22 baggage cars here.
Thanks for the link Marcus. It appears that a lot of the XL22 and UZ22 coaches have been assigned to different roles such as parcel express services.
As for the MTC models of the XL22 carriage, here is a link to them on Taobao.
They’re a very nice model, but unfortunately I’m a N scale modeller, not HO scale. 😢
Actually a lot of Chinese passenger and freight cars are now available in N scale. To be honest how many train modelers have the luxury to house a full size HO scale layout. I know I don’t.
I’ve been meaning to write about the different Chinese trains available in N scale – it’s quite a range, but hard to buy from outside China because the manufacturers only list them on Taobao, and they sell out quickly.