Rail milling machines on the MTR

To keep trains running smoothly on the MTR network a wide variety of special maintenance vehicles are used to keep the tracks in top condition. One of these is a rail milling machine.

Photo via the MTR Service Update unofficial Facebook page.

Since the early 20th century rail grinders have been used to improve the ride of trains using the track. They use grinding wheels to remove metal from the rails, restoring the profile and removing irregularities from worn tracks to extend their life.

However the past few years a new technology has become prevalent – rail milling. These machines mill the rail head instead of grinding it, resulting in a more accurate profile and a higher quality processed surface.

In June 2015 two new rail milling trains entered service in Hong Kong.

Among the new maintenance vehicles, Dr Lee said the most notable were the two Rail Milling Trains purchased from Austria at a cost of about $72 million each. The new machines offer more advanced milling technology, higher cutting power and higher precision controlling the final profile of tracks. In addition, they need only one pass to finish a rail profile whereas the existing Rail Grinding Machines require five to eight passes.

Service area: Tsuen Wan Line, Kwun Tong Line, Island Line, Tseung Kwan O Line, Tung Chung Line, Disneyland Resort Line and Airport Express, East Rail Line, West Rail Line and Ma On Shan Line

Enhanced features of new Rail Milling Train:

– The RMT it is designed to finish the process in one pass and re-profile 1km of rail in three hours, an over 40% increase in efficiency compared to existing grinding machines.
– This frees up more time for other inspection and maintenance works.
– More environmentally friendly due to less grinding action and over 90% of removed metal is collected for recycling.

The two SF02T-FS machines were supplied by Linsinger of Austria, a leader in rail milling technology, and were specially designed for use on underground rail networks.

The Austrian railhead profiling specialist will be unveiling its latest compact SF02T-FS rail milling train at InnoTrans 2014. This is one of a pair that the company is due to deliver to Hong Kong’s MTR Corp in the spring of 2015.

The small-profile SF02T-FS has been designed for use on metros and narrow gauge railways, and is able to operate around curves as tight as 50 m radius, thanks to a purpose-developed articulation joint. A low-emission engine facilitates operation in tunnels, as does a cleaning process that ensures that neither milling chips nor grinding dust are left on the track. Similar models have previously been supplied to JR West and Seoul Metro.

Around 22 m long and weighing 84 tonnes, the SF02T-FS is carried on 700 mm diameter wheels, with a maximum axleload of 14 tonnes. It is able to travel between worksites at up to 60 km/h, and can cope with gradients as steep as 4%. When operating, the machining speed varies between 5 and 14 m/min, depending on the depth of cut. Power is provided by a 400 kW diesel engine, which supplies two 75 kW motors for the milling heads and two 33 kW grinding units.

According to Linsinger, the combination of milling and grinding enables the complete reprofiling of the railhead in one pass. The flexible cutting depth allows material removal of between 0·1 mm and 1·5 mm on the running surface and up to about 3 mm on the gauge corner. This ensures a high degree of accuracy in the longitudinal profile and cross section, as well as a high-quality finish to the rail surface.

Because the profiling is done without any high pressure, the company says this avoids any risk of changing the rail’s metallurgical structure. With no dust and sparks flying, the risk of a fire in the tunnel is reduced.

Now News took a tour of a newly arrived rail milling train in this Cantonese language TV news report.

Early testing of the new machine was carried out in the yard at Tsuen Wan Depot.

While this video shows it at work by night on the Tsuen Wan Line main lines.

However there were some teething troubles – one of the rail milling trains caught fire while at work on the Tseung Kwan O line.

Blaze on rail milling train disrupts MTR service on Tseung Kwan O line for more than two hours
9 May 2016

Train service on the Tseung Kwan O MTR line was disrupted for more than two hours on Monday morning after smoke poured out of a rail milling train, triggering its fire alarm.

The incident happened shortly before 4.30am, when the HK$72 million train was about 300 metres away from Lohas Park station.

After the completion of its track works, the train was connected to a locomotive and was about to be towed back to its depot, according to MTR Corporation head of operations Francis Li Shing-kee.

“When the milling train’s generator was turned on, its fire alarm went off,” he said.

Maintenance workers informed the MTR control centre and the Fire Services Department.

Li said staff tried to fight the blaze with an extinguisher before firefighters arrived.
Firefighters put the blaze out with two extinguishers.

Using two extinguishers, firefighters put out the fire at 5.20am, according to a government spokeswoman, who added that two teams of firefighters wearing breathing apparatus were also deployed.

She said no casualties were reported in the second-alarm fire. Fires in the city are rated on a scale of one to five alarms according to their seriousness.

An MTR Corp spokesman said the milling train was slightly damaged and had been towed to its Tseung Kwan O depot for inspection.

According to MTR Corp, train service between Lohas Park and Tseung Kwan O stations originally began shortly before 6am, but the incident halted operations for about half an hour.

The railway company offered passengers shuttle bus services in the meantime.

Over on the MTR Service Update unofficial Facebook page more information about the incident can be found.

A Rail Milling Train was carrying out routine rail polishing work between Tseung Kwan O, Hang Hau and LOHAS Park stations before the traffic hours of 9/May (Mon)

When the train was running between LOHAS Park Station and the entrance of Tseung Kwan O Depot, its engine suddenly caught fire. Staff on board put out the fire immediately and firemen were summoned to stand-by

At 0648 hours, the Rail Milling Train was hauled by other locomotives after Fire Services Department finished preliminary investigation. Various railway equipments including overhead lines, signalling, tracks and infrastructure inside the tunnel were checked thoroughly by MTR staff to ensure it was safe to reopen the line. During the course, single line traffic was maintained between Tseung Kwan O and LOHAS Park stations, until 0809 hours when normal operations were gradually resumed

Without LOHAS Park harbour crossing services, Eastern Harbour Crossing services were reduced by 4 trains per hour

The Rail Milling Train involved was originally purchased for South Island Line from the Austrian Linsinger and has served the #MTR since 2015. Professionals from the manufacturer will arrive Hong Kong in the next few days to investigate the root cause and follow up the maintenance work

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Interchange stations on the Hong Kong MTR

One thing the Hong Kong MTR is known for is the ease of navigating the network, with well designed stations making it simple to change between different lines on your way across the city. Here is a summary of the different interchange station layouts found on the MTR system.

Waiting for a train at Lai King station

First – a common language

A cross-platform interchange is when a passenger can change from one train to another train on a different line, without having to the platform.

When two railway lines intersect, a total of eight possible interchange movements are possible. This requires four island platforms and two stations in order to provide cross-platform interchange for all possible movements:

Two line two station cross-platform interchange layout
Diagram by Herenthere, via Wikimedia Commons.

When one terminating railway line joins a second through railway line, four possible interchange movements are possible. Two island platforms at a single station are sufficient to serve all movements.

In both cases, interchange movements can be classified as ‘same’ for passengers changing to a train in the ‘same’ direction, or ‘inverse’ for those heading back the opposite way.

‘Full’ cross-platform interchange (8 of 8 movements)

The original full cross-platform interchange complex in Hong Kong was created at Mong Kok and Prince Edward stations when the Tsuen Wan Line was added to the original single line MTR system in 1982. The ‘inverse’ cross-platform interchange occurs at Prince Edward, with the ‘same’ direction interchange at Mong Kok.

Platform level at Prince Edward station

The same arrangement was created at Tiu Keng Leng Station (‘same’ direction) and Yau Tong Station (‘inverse’ direction) in 2002 with the opening of the Tseung Kwan O Line, which took over the cross harbour portion of the Kwun Tong Line.

‘Half’ cross-platform interchange, dominant direction (4 of 8 movements)

Admiralty Station provides an ‘inverse’ direction cross-platform interchange between the Tsuen Wan Line and the Island Line, for passengers heading to/from the east of Hong Kong Island.

In they come

North Point Station provides a ‘same’ direction cross-platform interchange between the Tseung Kwan O Line and the Island Line, for passengers heading to/from the downtown area of Central. This interchange was retrofitted to the station in 2001, to ease congestion at neighbouring Quarry Bay Station.

Platform at North Point

Lai King Station provides a ‘same’ direction cross-platform interchange between the Tsuen Wan Line and Tung Chung Lines, with citybound and outbound lines running parallel.

Lower level island platform at Lai King station

Half cross-platform interchange, terminating train (2 of 4 movements)

Sunny Bay Station serves the Tung Chung Line and the Disneyland Resort Line branch, with three platforms – one being an island. Passengers from the city headed to Hong Kong Disneyland have a cross platform interchange, as do Disneyland passengers headed for Tung Chung, but all other movements require changing to the citybound Tung Chung Line platform.

Passengers wait for a Tung Chung line train at Sunny Bay

Quarter cross-platform interchange, terminating train (1 of 4 movements)

Tai Wai Station on the East Rail Line is terminus of the Ma On Shan Line and has a total of four platforms – one island and two side platforms. The terminating platform used by citybound Ma On Shan Line trains has a cross-platform interchange with the citybound East Rail Line, but all other movements require a platform change.

Ground level concourse at Tai Wai station

Cross-platform interchange, two terminating trains (2 of 2 movements)

Hung Hom Station provides a same direction cross platform interchange between the East Rail and West Rail lines, with terminating trains alternating between the two island platforms, but not in a coordinated manner, so a platform change is sometimes required.

Next train display at Hung Hom

Cross-platform interchange, same platform (2 of 4 movements)

The Tseung Kwan O Line has two branches – one to Po Lam, the other to LOHAS Park. During off-peak periods LOHAS Park Station is served by shuttle trains, with passengers changing at Tiu Keng Leng or Tseung Kwan O to continue their journey. These shuttle trains use the same platform as mainline services in the ‘same’ direction, so only ‘inverse’ movements require a platform change.

Next train display at Tseung Kwan O station (DearEdward via Wikimedia Commons)
DearEdward via Wikimedia Commons

Accidental cross-platform interchange (2 of 4 movements)

Nam Cheong Station was built as the interchange station between the MTR Tung Chung Line and KCR West Rail. Before the integration of the two networks, fare gates separated the two sets of parallel side platforms. After the merger, the wall between two of the platforms was opened up, enabling cross-platform interchange between southbound Tung Chung Line and northbound West Rail Line trains.

West Rail concourse at Nam Cheong station

Interchange via escalators

Building a cross-platform interchange requires the two intersecting railway lines to come together and run parallel to each other – which often requires costly tunnels and viaducts.

Northbound train departs Lai King station on a viaduct

Where this cost cannot be justified, a simpler option is to provide separate platforms on each line, with interchange passengers using escalators, stairs and lifts to move between the two.

Central Station between Island Line and Tsuen Wan Line is one example, with direct access between the two levels via a single escalator or lift.

Interchange platform directions at Central station

Interchange via separate concourse

Where the two sets of platforms are located at vastly different depths, were built at separate times, or are separated by great distances, it may not be possible to install a direct lift or escalator between the two. Instead a separate concourse level is inserted between the two platforms, with passengers required to change elevation twice when changing between platforms.

  • Quarry Bay, between Tseung Kwan O Line and Island Line.
  • Admiralty Station, between South Island Line and Island Line / Tsuen Wan Line.
  • Ho Man Tin Station, between Kwun Tong Line and Shatin to Central Link.
  • Mei Foo Station, between Tsuen Wan Line and West Rail Line.
  • Kowloon Tong Station, between Kwun Tong Line and East Rail Line.

Underground passage at Kowloon Tong station

Interchange between two separately named stations, via paid area

Central Station (Island Line and Tsuen Wan Line) is linked to Hong Kong Station (Tung Chung Line and Airport Express) by a long underground passageway, located inside the paid area at concourse level – in effect making them the same station.

Part of the travelator link between Central and Hong Kong stations

Interchange between two separately named stations, via unpaid area

Tsim Sha Tsui Station on the Tsuen Wan Line is linked to East Tsim Sha Tsui Station on the West Rail Line by a network of underground passageways that are open to the general public, with interchange passengers in effect exiting one station then entering the second.

Moving walkways in the corridor linking East Tsim Sha Tsui and Tsim Sha Tsui stations

By name only

Mong Kok Station on the Tsuen Wan Line and Mong Kok East Station on the East Rail Line are a 10 minute walk apart via elevated pedestrian footbridge system. Both stations originally had the same name, the latter being changed after the MTR and KCR system were merged.

Tsuen Wan Station on the Tsuen Wan Line and Tsuen Wan West Station on the West Rail Line are in the same area of Hong Kong, but are 1.5 kilometres apart, 15 to 20 minute walk.


The MTR website has ‘Station Layout’ diagrams that give a 3D view of each station on the network – you’ll be amused for hours! Here is a selection.

They also have ‘Location Maps’ for each station, showing where each exit emerges at street level.

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Mileposts along the MTR East Rail Line

Something you don’t see on a modern rail systems are old fashioned concrete mileposts, but I stumbled upon one on the northbound platform at Mong Kok East station.

2.5 kilometre milepost at Mong Kok East station

And another south of Fo Tan station.

11.5 km post on the MTR East Rail line, south of Fo Tan

Called 里程碑 in Cantonese, over on the HKiTalk.net forums I found a thread discussing mileposts on the East Rail Line:

The East Rail line is approximately 34 kilometres in length, with mileposts found every 500 metres.

Distances are measured from Hung Hom Station.

Located to the left hand side of the track, headed northbound, existing concrete mileposts include:

  • 1
  • 1.5
  • 2.5 (Mong Kok East)
  • 3
  • 4.5 (Kowloon Tong)
  • 7.5-11.5
  • 12 (Fo Tan)
  • 14.5 (University)
  • 15
  • 18.6 (Tunnels No. 5 and 5A)
  • 21 (Tai Po Market)
  • 23.510
  • 25.5-27
  • 28.5 (Fanling)
  • 29.510
  • 30 (Sheung Shui)
  • 31-33

They also detailed how chainage is displayed along the former KCR system:

Example – A18+598 at tunnel No. 5A:

18 kilometres + 598 metres from Hung Hom.

The letter indicates:

  • A = Mainline
  • B = Racecourse branch
  • S = Siding
  • L = Lok Ma Chau Spur Line
  • M = Ma On Shan Line

The lowered marked chainage is A0+030 at Hung Hom.

The highest marked chainage is L37+471 at Lok Ma Chau Station, and A33+579 at the Shenzhen home signal.


Here is a Cantonese language page on road mileposts in Hong Kong.

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Overtaking moves on the MTR East Rail Line

Two kinds of trains share the East Rail Line in Hong Kong – ordinary stopping-all-stations MTR trains that run every few minutes, and the ‘Intercity Through Train’ that runs express from Hung Hom into Mainland China. But how do fast and slow trains coexist on a 34 kilometre long route with only two tracks?

Southbound KTT passes through Mong Kong East station, 'white head' locomotive at the rear

The first trick is to delay the all-stations MTR trains to make space for the express train to run in front of it. Here at Mong Kong East we see an empty platform and a six minute gap until the next service: the Lo Wo bound train has already departed, with a ‘not stopping’ message on the next train display indicating the track is cleared for a northbound Through Train. Immediately after the Through Train departs Hung Hom, the next all-stations train will depart hot on the tail.

The Chinese version of "Non Stopping Train" on the display

The other trick is for the fast train to overtake the slow one. Sha Tin station is located 10 kilometres north of Hung Hom station, and has four tracks.

Afternoon at Sha Tin station

Along with a short section of quad track.

Northbound train takes the 'loop' platform at Sha Tin, main line clear for a Through Train to overtake

Normally all-stations trains take the ‘inner’ platform faces – but when an overtaking move is planned, they are routed onto the ‘outer’ track.

Northbound train takes the 'loop' platform at Sha Tin, main line clear for a Through Train to overtake

They then arrive into the platform.

Northbound train takes the 'loop' platform at Sha Tin, main line clear for a Through Train to overtake

And stop as normal, but with the mainline clear.

Northbound train in the 'loop' platform at Sha Tin, main line clear for a Through Train to overtake

The Through Train appears soon after.

SS8 0181 leads a northbound Through Train express through Sha Tin station

Running through the clear platform.

SS8 0181 leads a northbound Through Train express through Sha Tin station

And continues along the line.

Someone else gets a photo of SS8 0181 leading a northbound Through Train express through Sha Tin station

The total delay to the all-stations train is around five minutes – this video shows a SS8 hauled Through Train overtaking a northbound MTR train at Sha Tin.


Overtaking moves are also possible at Fo Tan and Tai Po Market: both stations have four platforms serving three tracks. However from my research it seems overtaking moves are not timetabled at either station – Through Trains take the outside platforms, same as all-stations trains, with the centre platform only used for terminating MTR services.

Further viewing

Another northbound overtaking move at Sha Tin – this time with the double deck MTR Ktt train, and with the waiting time cut out of the video.

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Turning a MTR railcar around by crane

In normal service MTR trains are driven back and forth along the same line each day – only the driver changes cabs at the end of the line, with the carriages themselves always facing the same way. However the current remarshalling of the MTR SP1900/1950 EMU trains from a mix of 12, 7 and 4-car long trains into a uniform fleet of 8-car trains has seen the need to reverse some carriages. With no reversing loops, turntables or triangle junctions on the MTR system, this meant a heavy lift crane needed to be called in to pick up each carriage, turn it around, then place it back on the rails.

Photo from the Tai Wah Sea and Land Heavy Transportation website, July 2015

A group of railfans called the ‘Hong Kong Railway Development Group’ has a few videos on their YouTube channel showing the carriage turning operation at Pat Heung Depot:

In the SP1900/1950 train remarshalling program, more than 120 cars need to be reversed. To lift and move the weight of 37 to 51 tons is not a simple thing!

In order to secure the body so the car can be lifted, the engineering staff attach a yellow lifting frame at the ends of the carriage near the bogie, and then the crane. When the carriage is lifted, the ground personnel will pull the rope in advance of the four corners of the carriage, to assist the crane in the 180° reversal. Workers also need to ensure that eight wheels of the carriage have been placed back onto on the track.

Here we see Ma On Shan line driving carriage D514 getting turned by crane on 11 February 2017.

Followed by motor cars P509 and M509.

While this video from 13 April 2016 shows brand new intermediate carriages being shunted around the depot.

This diagram created by the Hong Kong Railway Development Group shows how a 4-car long Ma On Shan line train is remarshalled into an 8-car long train for the future East-West Corridor.

“需進行轉向” translates to “needs to be turned”.

I can see a whole lot of shuffling going on, and five out of the eight carriages needing to be turned – but I can’t see the logic in reversing both driving carriages to create a train that looks the same as before!

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