Finding the last KCR ‘Yellow Head’ train

For almost two decades, the mainstay of the Kowloon Canton Railway was their fleet of Metro Cammell EMUs, nicknamed ‘Yellow Head’ (黃頭) for the colour of their driving cabs.


Photo by Joseph K.K. Lee / gakei.com

As originally built, each Metro Cammell EMU was a standalone three-car train with a driving cab at each end, capable of being coupled up into trains of six cars (two EMUs), nine cars (three EMUs) to 12 cars (four EMUs).

Refurbishment of the trains was completed between 1996 and 1999, and saw the progressive removal of these three-car trains from service and their reformation into fixed 12-car long trains.

Sun going down of an evening

But there was one problem – there was one three-car train left over!

The orphaned set was E44, made up of carriages 144-244-444, and last made a public appearance on 27 July 2002 when the Kowloon-Canton Railway Corporation held a “East Rail Nostalgic Train Trip & Charity Fun Fair” to mark the retirement of the last ‘Yellow Head’ train, with over 3,000 members of the public attended the event.

The Kowloon-Canton Railway Corporation (KCRC) will organise an East Rail Nostalgic Train Trip & Charity Fun Fair on 27 July 2002 (Saturday) at KCRC Shatin Freight Yard. A retired first generation train will be exhibited at Shatin Freight Yard and opened for visit by the public.

Apart from a Giant Painting Competition, on stage performance, exhibitions, game booths and charity sale of artifacts will be organized on that day. KCRC will donate all the proceeds of the charity sale to ‘Senior Citizen Home Safety Association’ for the installation of personal emergency links for the elderly living along East Rail.

Admission tickets of East Rail Nostalgic Train Trip & Charity Fun Fair are distributed free of charge at four East Rail Customer Services Centres (Hung Hom, Sha Tin, Tai Po Market and Sheung Shui) starting from 18 July 2002 (Thursday). A maximum of four tickets will be given to each person on a first-come first-served basis.

The train was then put into storage at Ho Tung Lau Depot, next door to Fo Tan station.

Train depot under apartment towers

And there the train has sat, for 17 years and counting.


Photo by 無人之境 | Abandoned HK

The future for Metro Cammell EMU set E44 is uncertain, but by 2020 the last of the refurbished classmate will be retired, replaced by the incoming MTR Hyundai Rotem EMU fleet.

Further reading

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Visiting Tai Lei – Peng Chau’s boring little brother

Peng Chau is a small outlying island of Hong Kong, known for its temples, island lifestyle and fresh seafood. It is also connected to the even smaller island of Tai Lei, which is home to the ugly and boring things that make urban life on Peng Chau possible.

Bridge linking Peng Chau to the even smaller island of Tai Lei

There is a sewage treatment plant.

Entry to the Peng Chau sewage treatment plant

A CLP electrical substation.

CLP electrical substation for Peng Chau

The Shell Gas LPG bottle depot.

Shell Gas LPG bottle depot on Tai Lei

And the waste transfer station, where rubbish is packed into containers then loaded onto a barge.

Entrance to the waste transfer station on Peng Chau

At least the bridge connecting to Peng Chau and Tai Lei is a good fishing spot.

Fishing on the bridge between Peng Chau and Tai Lei

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1970s KCR proposal for double deck carriages

For decades the Kowloon–Canton Railway was a quiet single track railway, with a handful of passenger trains heading along the line linking the villages of the New Territories to the urban heart of Kowloon. But the development of the New Towns during the 1970s saw the role of the railway change, which led to an interesting proposal – double deck passenger carriages.


Photo from ‘Comeng Volume 3: 1966 – 1977’ by John Dunn

It was intended for these new locomotive hauled carriages to replace the single deck carriages then used on the KCR, enabling more passengers to be carried per train, removing the need for costly track duplication or electrification works.

Kowloon Canton Railway KCR - EMD G12 locomotive No. 54
Photo via this blog.

The full story can be found in chapter 14 of the book ‘Comeng: A History of Commonwealth Engineering Volume 3: 1966 – 1977’ by John Dunn.

In 1970 the executives of the British section of the Kowloon–Canton Railway began a radical rethink of the Railway’s future. A government steering committee was set up in 1972 to examine the changes needed to promote freight and passenger growth between Hong Kong and mainland China on their standard-gauge 35 km line from Kowloon and Shenzhen (on the Chinese border). It was intended to construct large new towns at Sha Tin, Tai Po, Sheung Shui and Fanling in the New Territories. These developments would significantly increase the daily commuter traffic on the KCR.

In 1972 KCR called for expressions of interest for high-capacity commuter trains to cope with this expected increase in traffic. Up to that time KCR trains were locomotive-hauled using diesel-electric units built by Clyde Engineering. The man in charge of the new rolling stock project was engineering manager Clement Chui, who came to Sydney in July to look at Comeng’s double-deckers. He was strongly in favour of double-deckers and so John Dunn was assigned to come up with the proposed train layouts.

There were three car types:

  • Second-class, seating 120 and standing 239.
  • Third-class, seating 176 and standing 336.
  • Third-class with guard compartment, seating 160 and standing 326.

The latter car was also fitted with a packaged diesel generator unit to provide power for the lights and ventilation fans on the train.

This general arrangement diagram shows the layout of the proposed carriages.


Photo from ‘Comeng Volume 3: 1966 – 1977’ by John Dunn

As you can see, the proposal from Comeng was similar to that of the double deck electric multiple unit trains built for the suburban railways of Sydney, Australia during the early 1970s.

S92 climbs the Flying Junctions bound for Central

But a number of modifications were required to suit the local infrastructure:

Since there were no high platforms on the KCR at that time, the cars had to have doors at the ends with steps to give access to and from the low platforms. It was the first time this type of double-deck car had been conceived — the arrangement being necessary to avoid interrupting the load-carrying side sills along the bottom deck below the windows. Although many European double-deckers had doors giving access to the lower deck, this was not a proposition in this KCR proposal.

However the proposal came to nought:

The double-deckers never eventuated, even though Clement Chui recommended them and pushed hard for their acceptance. Because the KCR was a ‘British’ railway the decision-makers favoured the ‘old school tie’ and were keen to back the car builders in England rather than anyone in Australia. It is also probably true that since the British had no experience with double-deckers they opted for a type of train which had been tried and proven back home.

Instead a more conventional investment program was selected – double-tracking and electrification of the railway from Hung Hom to Lo Wu and the upgrading of stations with high platforms, served by a fleet of single deck EMUs built by Metro Cammell of the UK. This work was completed by 1983.


Photo by Joseph K.K. Lee / gakei.com

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Extending the Ma On Shan line from 4 to 8 car trains

Since the Ma On Shan line opened in December 2004 it has operated as a branch line in the New Territories of Hong Kong, connecting to the rest of the network at Tai Wai station. But nothing stays still in Hong Kong and this line is no exception, with major changes underway as the railway is extended deep into Kowloon as part of a major expansion program.

Train on the viaduct between Ma On Shan and Heng On stations

As originally conceived by the KCR Corporation, the Ma On Shan line was a branch line of the main East Rail Line. Four car trains spent their days travelling back and forth along the line, with nine stations serving the previously underserved eastern half of the Sha Tin district.

Ma On Shan line viaduct parallels the Shing Mun River

But the end game was always something far bigger – to extend the line south into the Kowloon, passing through the densely populated districts of Kowloon City, and join up with the West Rail Line, forming a second rail link between the western New Territories and the ‘Hong Kong’ that tourists know, called the ‘East West Corridor‘.

This proposal was given the go ahead in 2012, in what is now known as the ‘Sha Tin to Central Link‘.

Shatin to Central Link construction site in the shadows of Lion Rock at Diamond Hill

A longer railway carries more passengers, so as well as extending the line, bigger trains are required. New 8-car long trains from CRRC Changchun have been delivered.

8-car MTR CRRC Changchun EMU for use on the future East West Line (photo by Andyhyleung, via Wikimedia Commons)
Photo by Andyhyleung, via Wikimedia Commons

But longer trains need longer platforms. Thankfully this work didn’t require the demolition of any existing structures.

Bamboo scaffolding beneath the elevated Ma On Shan station, permitting platform lengthening works for the Shatin to Central Link

With the existing platforms being extended into space that was left for future expansion.

Yet to be commissioned platform extensions at Ma On Shan station

At the same time automatic platform gates have been retrofitted to stations.

Automatic platform gates retrofitted at Tai Wai station

This required modifications to the edge of each platform.

Preparatory works for the installation of automatic platform gates at Sha Tin Wai station

As well as temporary signage while the existing fleet of four car long trains were still running.

Platforms on the Ma On Shan line extended to 8-cars long and retrofitted with platform screen doors

Work upgrading the Ma On Shan Line commenced in 2014 and was completed in 2016, with the first 8-car train running in January 2017, and the last 4-car train running in 2017. The expected completion date of the new ‘East West Corridor‘ is 2019.

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MTR diesel transfers and double headed passenger trains

The “Intercity Through Train” service links Hong Kong to mainland China, running express across the border from Hung Hom station. Jointly operated by the MTR Corporation of Hong Kong and the Chinese Ministry of Railways, these trains are normally hauled by electric locomotives. However the MTR fleet of diesel locomotives is occasionally found up front of these trains, on empty car moves to/from the railway workshops.

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

Here we see Siemens Eurorunner ER20 locomotive #8004 hauling a set of empty 25T coaches through Tai Wai station, bound for Hung Hom. The diesel engine later returned to the East Rail Line depot, running light engine.

Classmate #8003 arriving at Hung Hom with another set of 25T coaches, with another empty car movement.

The double deck KTT train set is usually hauled by a pair of electric locomotives in push-pull formation, but can be hauled by a single unit when maintenance is required.

Here we see EMD G26CU diesel locomotive #61 dragging the empty KTT set out of the East Rail Depot at Tai Wai, bound for Hung Hom. Here the train entered service, headed northbound with a single electric locomotive in the lead, and the diesel left behind in Hong Kong.

ER20 diesel locomotive #8001 has also been used on a similar KTT set movement, seen at Mong Kok East station.

As has locomotive #8005, seen at Kowloon Tong.

Here is a complication of more MTR diesels on passenger trains:

  • EMD G26CU locomotive #62 with 25T coaches
  • EMD G16 locomotive #58 with 25T coaches
  • ER20 8001 on the KTT set
  • EMD G16 locomotive #59 with 25T coaches
  • ER20 8001 on the KTT set

And double heading

China Railways trains into Hong Kong are usually hauled by a single locomotive.

China Railways electric locomotive SS8 0141 leads a consist of type 25T carriages southbound at Tai Wai

But double headed trains occasionally cross the border into Hong Kong, such as this pair of SS8 electric locomotives in 2015.

This double headed SS8 locomotive train in 2013.

A SS8 electric paired with a DF11 diesel in 2011.

And another SS8 electric with DF11 diesel double header in 2012.

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