Farewell to the MTR Intercity Through Train service

After being paused in January 2020 when the border was closed between Hong Kong and Mainland China, in January 2023 it was finally confirmed – the MTR Intercity Through Train service is no more.

MTR operated 'KTT' double deck train northbound outside Sha Tin

Rumours started swirling in 2022 about cancellation of the service.

Since the opening of the Hong Kong section of the XRL, the number of through train passengers has dropped. The government revealed in early 2019 that the number of through train passengers has dropped by about 30% year-on-year.

The MTR Corporation’s interim results that year also stated that through train revenue fell by 30% year-on-year. At that time, the Transport and Housing Bureau had revealed that it would adjust or reduce through train services.

“HK01” combines multiple different sources, all of which indicate that the MTR will disband the passenger transport department responsible for operating intercity through trains in the short term. According to sources, some employees have been transferred to other departments of MTR. It is believed that the through train operation department will hold a meeting with the company to discuss the direction. It is expected that there is a high chance of disbandment. However, sources indicate that the relevant employees will not be laid off and can choose to be transferred to other departments to continue working.

The news also indicates that MTR has recently suspended routine inspections, repairs and other maintenance of double-decker Kowloon-Canton Express trains. Some sources even described the train itself as “severely exhausted” and believed that it was close to being “retired”. They believed that the mainland’s railway network is becoming increasingly perfect and the historical mission of intercity through trains has been completed.

When asked by “HK01”, DAB Legislative Council member Liu Guoxun also said that he had heard that the through train service would be terminated. He agreed that through trains can indeed be gradually reduced, especially if the East Rail Line is switched to nine-car trains to cross the harbour, which will free up the time when through trains share the track, allowing the East Rail Line to increase its frequency.

The end announced in January 2023 alongside the resumption of services on the high-speed link to mainland China.

Hong Kong’s historic intercity through-train service is effectively cancelled, lawmakers have said, as the city’s rail operator announced the route suspension would continue despite a high-speed link to mainland China resuming on Sunday.

Legislator Michael Tien Puk-sun, former chairman of the now defunct Kowloon-Canton Railway Corporation, on Thursday said through-train operations were unlikely to continue given Guangzhou East station was now linked to Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link.

“The intercity through-train service will no longer be operated, it is a part of history,” he said, adding the line was effectively cancelled.

Fellow lawmaker Gary Zhang Xinyu, an engineer who served as operations manager at the MTR Corporation, agreed with Tien and said staff for the service had been transferred to other posts.

Faster links than the more than 110-year-old route were now available for the same ticket price with the addition of the high-speed rail terminating at West Kowloon, he explained.

“There is actually no special reason for both routes to still be operating at the same time,” Zhang said.

The legislator’s remarks followed announcements by the government and the MTR Corp that the high-speed rail service at West Kowloon station would resume on Sunday after it was suspended at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic in January 2020.

It covers direct travel to Shenzhen and Guangzhou, as well as the Guangzhou East station, a previous stopping point for the through-train service. New stops are also available at Dongguan and Dongguan South.

Jeny Yeung Mei-chun, the MTR Corp’s transport services director for Hong Kong, said the decision behind the ongoing suspension was based on service demand, resource allocation and the new addition to the high-speed rail link.

“In the short term, we don’t have plans to resume the intercity through-train service, and we will also keep close contact with the relevant departments,” she said.

“As now we have the Guangzhou East station, which is exactly where the intercity service has been serving, we believe passengers have an even better choice with a shorter journey time and where you can have immigration and every process in the same place.”

Lawmaker Zhang said Hong Kong and mainland authorities would discuss the matter further before the service was officially cancelled, with the next question being what to do with the now vacant passenger trains.

“I think the main thing that needs to be dealt with is the trains since they were built for the route and cannot be used elsewhere,” he said. “So how do they deal with the trains? Whether they should be sold or scrapped? I guess they will have to consider this.”

In recent years the MTR Corporation has scrapped the diesel-electric locomotives once used on their cross-border freight service – will the KTT set be next to go?

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4 Responses to Farewell to the MTR Intercity Through Train service

  1. Eric Ko says:

    According to my book “Evolution of Hong Kong Transport” published by 80M Bus Model Shop, the KTT locomotives were built in Switzerland and the carriages were built in Japan and both arrived on April 1997 and entered service on August 8, 1998. Due to the pandemic, the last intercity through train ran on January 30, 2020 which means that the KTT units entered service for about 21.5 years. Freight locomotives here in North America have a life span of between 25-30 years and passenger locomotives last even longer due to lighter work involved. As a result I think these KTT units still have at least 10 more years to go. This of course, depends on how well it was maintained too.
    Regarding the future of the train, one option is to return them to the originating country in Japan and Switzerland just like the former KCR EMD G12 #52-55. These locomotives returned to service in their birth place in Australia. Because these are double decker trains, another option is to use them as short scenic excursion services in the Guangdong area.

    • As an orphaned train set, the number of options for reusing it elsewhere are pretty limited – and doubly so because they’re an electric locomotive that can;r run just anywhere like a diesel.

      If they joined their cousins back in Europe they’d need their knuckle couplers exchanged for the screw couplers used over there. Maybe they’ll just get parted out for useful spares.

  2. Geoffrey Hansen says:

    Are the Chinese through trains likely to run again at all?

    Also could the loco hauled double decker sets be used in Australia at all? eg in NSW or Victoria.

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