Building the Shatin to Central Link tunnels at Shek O

On my 2016 trip to Hong Kong I headed to Shek O and found something odd along the way – a sign for the MTR’s new Shatin to Central Link railway project, despite the nearest piece of track being on the opposite side of Hong Kong Island. So what was the deal?

Entry to the MTR immersed tube tunnel casting basin at Shek O

Shek O is better known for the beach.

Concrete lifeguard towers on the beach at Shek O

But the sign I saw referenced MTR contract #1121, which relates to the Cross Harbour Tunnels that will carry trains between Hung Hom and Causeway Bay, passing beneath Victoria Harbour.

Pleasure boats moored in the Causeway Bay Typhoon Shelter

But investigating MTR contract #1121 finally gave me the reason for the Shatin to Central Link sign appearing in such an odd location.

Shatin to Central Link (SCL) Contract 1121 is the cross harbour tunnel to extend the East Rail Line (EAL) from the North Ventilation Building at Hung Hom Landfall to the Causeway Bay Typhoon Shelter (CBTS). As Immersed Tunnel (IMT) was selected as the construction method, a suitable casting basin is a pre-requisite for commencement of the immersed tube prefabrication work.

The ex-Shek O Quarry is the unique location in Hong Kong that is suitable for such large scale precasting work. It is located on the south-eastern part of Hong Kong Island, on the western side of D’Aguilar Peninsula and next to Shek O Country Park. Its favourable conditions for prefabrication of immersed tube tunnel sections includes its large and deep basin, which is capable for pre-casting of the whole immersed tunnel in one go.

The immersed tube tunnel sections are spaced out in the casting basin. (the original plan was for only 10 segments)

Environmental Impact Assessment for the Shatin to Central Link, diagram NEX2213/C/331/ENS/M50/026

They also describe the casting process:

Three major items are needed to be set up in Shek O site to facilitate the pre-casting of the units. The first one is the temporary dock gates that were used to dam the two existing openings at the basin to allow the pumping away of contained seawater. A dock gate was formed as a gravity-type retaining wall made of seawall blocks with a sheet pile wall in front to seal in the water.

The second item is the barging point to facilitate the delivery of major construction materials by sea and relieve the traffic loading on Shek O Road.

The last item to be set up is the on-site concrete batching plant. It is the most critical facility for the reinforced concrete tunnel box pre-casting since the supply of concrete will directly affect the progress of work.

Once the casting basin was dewatered, formation work was carried out and concrete paving placed for precast unit construction.

The 1.66km long pre-cast immersed tunnel is divided into 11 elements with typical length of 156m. Each element will be further divided into nine bays for on-site construction. The typical construction sequence of an immersed tunnel is described as below.

1. Install steel plates at bottom and both sides (approx. 1.7m high) of tunnel external walls as waterproofing membrane.
2. Construct the tunnel base slab with wall kicker.
3. Construct the tunnel wall and roof slab.
4. Pre-stressing (post-tensioning) work and apply waterproofing to external wall and roof.
5. Install ballast tanks inside tunnel and steel bulkheads to seal up the tunnel openings at both ends.

By July 2016 work on the immersed tube tunnel sections was well underway.

Photo by Tim Leung / Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining, Hong Kong branch

Many organisations visited the site, including the Hong Kong Institution of Engineers.

Photo by the Hong Kong Institution of Engineers

And by March 2017 a milestone was reached – the completion of the final immersed tube tunnel section.

Photo via Tunnelling Journal

Two months later the casting basin had been completely flooded.

Photo via Mapei Far East

And in June 2017 the first tunnel section exited the basin, bound for Victoria Harbour.

Photo by MTR Corporation

Where it will be prepared for the next stage of the tunnel construction process.

The IMT units will be towed one by one to a holding area near Tseung Kwan O for installation of two 30-metre surveying towers equipped with Global Positioning System (GPS).

They will then be attached to floating pontoons equipped with mooring wires and other immersion equipment. These systems and equipment will guide the complex yet highly controlled submersion process for each unit to ensure correct horizontal and longitudinal movements for precise positioning on the seabed.

This first, fully equipped IMT unit will then continue its journey to Victoria Harbour in mid June 2017 for immersion and installation in the vicinity of the Causeway Bay Typhoon Shelter.

And by 2018 the casting basin was looking rather empty.

Google Maps satellite imagery

The final immersed tube tunnel segment was installed in April 2018.

Photo by MTR Corporation

And by July 2018 reinstatement works for the Shek O casting yard had been completed.


“Adventure under Victoria Harbour” – a video by the MTR Corporation.

Further reading

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A nostalgic return for Hong Kong’s cross harbour car ferries

In such a fast paced city, finding pieces of ‘Old Hong Kong’ is difficult. But back in 2016 the Hongkong and Yaumati Ferry company launched something interesting – a return of Hong Kong’s cross harbour car ferries, to celebrate the 83rd anniversary of the service being launched.

Photo via EJ Insight

EJ Insight has more details of the event.

Nostalgic Hongkongers have a chance to relive a time when ferries were the only means to get a car across the harbor.

Hong Kong Ferry (Holdings) Co. Ltd. will offer sailings on May 14 and 22 to celebrate the 83rd anniversary of the service, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reports, citing a Facebook post.

Harbour Cruise — Bauhinia will operate six ferries on those days, four between North Point and Kwun Tong.

People born in 1933 or March 6 can board free of charge or pay HK$80 for their car.

Adults will be charged HK$100 each and children HK$60. Snacks will be served on board.

Hong Kong Ferry said tickets for vehicle slots are sold out, adding it is planning more sailings to meet demand, pending approval from marine authorities.

Until the opening of the Cross Harbour Tunnel in 1972 the only way for vehicles to cross Victoria Harbour was by ferry. Hongkong and Yaumati Ferry launched their vehicular ferry service back in 1933 to cater for the new mode of transport, with the service continuing until 1998, when competition from road tunnels led it becoming uneconomic.

The bulk of the car ferries have been retired, with one ending up in Australia, but some have been converted into party boats used on the Harbour Cruise Bauhinia.

Man On on a harbour cruise, originally built as a double deck car ferry

While others are still in service, conveying dangerous goods vehicles between North Point on Hong Kong Island, Kwun Tong in Kowloon, and Mui Wo on Lantau Island.

Double deck vehicular ferry at the Shell oil depot on Tsing Yi

Which made reintroducing the service easy to do, given the car ferries were still in service.

Photo by Edmond Tang, China Daily


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Travelling the ‘wrong’ way down the East Rail Line

Given the British influence on Hong Kong road and rail have one thing in common – traffic runs to the left. However for trains this isn’t always so, as this video shows.

Filmed at University Station, we see a southbound train using the platform normally used by northbound trains, due to a failed train sitting in the other platform.

These movements are made possible by the provision of lineside signals on both tracks in both directions.

Signals for the bidirectionally signalled East Rail line

As well as crossovers to allow trains to pass between the two sets of tracks.

Noise suppression walls surround the tracks

On the MTR East Rail line crossovers are provided at:

  • Hung Hom, scissors crossover at north end of station
  • Ho Man Tin, scissors crossover
  • Mong Kok East, scissors crossover at south end, facing crossover at north end
  • Kowloon Tong, scissors crossover at north end
  • Tai Wai, scissors crossover between station and Beacon Hill Tunnel
  • Sha Tin, facing crossover at south end, facing crossover at north end
  • Fo Tan, triple track station
  • Racecouse Junction, trailing crossover
  • University, scissors crossover near Tai Po Kau
  • Tai Wo, triple track station
  • old Tai Po Market, trailing crossover
  • Tai Wo – Fanling, scissors crossover midway between stations
  • Sheung Shui, scissors crossover at south end, facing crossover at north end
  • Lok Ma Chau, scissors crossover in tunnel, scissors crossover at station
  • Lo Wu, scissors crossover at south end of station

However running trains on the ‘wrong’ line to get around a broken down train isn’t an instant fix for service issues – forcing trains onto a single track causes long delays.

Here we see an East Rail train running on the ‘wrong’ line between Tai Po Market and University Stations, with a 16 minute wait until the line ahead was clear.

While this example shows single track working to avoid works at Ho Man Tin, resulting in the service between Hung Hom and Sha Tin stations being cut to one train every 10 minutes.


Despite the motorists of China driving on the right hand side of the road, the main line railways run on the left – an artefact of China’s first railway that was built by British interests.

Further reading

Left- and right-hand traffic at Wikipedia.

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An Australian ship in Hong Kong

Hong Kong has been the home of the busiest container port in the world for many years, seeing vessels from many countries. Here we see the Australian National Line’s “Australian Enterprise” underway on Victoria Harbour, with a 1970s Hong Kong skyline in the background.

From the Australian National Line 1978 Annual Report


Some statistics on “Australian Enterprise” from the Miramar Ship Index.

Owners: Australian Shipping Commission
Port Registry: AUS Melbourne
Year: 1969
Flag: AUS
Date of completion: 27.8.69
Tons: 9330
Link: 1437
DWT: 14308
Yard No: 1127
Length overall: 181.7
LPP: 168.0
Country of build: JPN
Beam: 25.1
Builder: Kawasaki
Location of yard: Kobe
End: 1986
Disposal Data:
BU Kaohsiung 23.1.86, work began 1.2.86 [Gwo Feng Steel Enterprise Co]

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The Hong Kong ferry that came to Australia

This is the story of a Hong Kong vehicular ferry called 民安(Man On)that once carried cars across Victoria Harbour, but ended up reconnecting the Australia city of Hobart.

Photo by John Craike; via the Maritime Museum of Tasmania collection

Double decked ferry 民安(Man On)entered service with the Hongkong and Yaumati Ferry Company in 1951 carrying passengers across Victoria Harbour, before being converted into a car ferry in 1966. With the opening of the Cross Harbour Tunnel in the 1970s this traffic collapsed, leaving the fleet of car ferries underused.

Meanwhile thousands of kilometres away in the Australia city of Hobart, Tasmania something dramatic happened – bulk carrier SS Lake Illawarra was headed up the Derwent River, when it veered off course and rammed into the Tasman Bridge, causing it to collapse, and cutting the city in half.

As a result a fleet of ferries was quickly assembled to fill the transportation gap, including the Man On.

Private enterprise got on with shifting people while the State Government got on with buck passing, indecision and then making some quite weird decisions.

One such was to buy from Hong Kong a two-decked 30 year old car ferry and have it towed to Hobart. When Man On arrived it was quickly found out that her design as a car ferry made her use as a passenger ferry very dubious. Much extra money was expended before she was any use.

Following the opening of the reconstructed Tasman Bridge in 1977 the Man On was now redundant, but a third life was calling – carrying vehicles and passengers between Bruny Island and the Tasmanian mainland.

Renamed the Harry O’May and with the lower deck converted back to carry vehicles, the ferry started on this route in 1978, and continued in this role until replaced by newer ferry Mirambeena in 1991.

The next turn of duty for the ferry was a trans-Tamar service between Beauty Point and George Town.

Harry O’May was sold by the state to Les Dick in 1995 for AUD 235,000.

He installed a vehicle ramp on it and then tried to start a trans-Tamar service between Beauty Point and George Town.

But after a series of teething problems the service failed and ceased in 1997.

Today the ferry is derelict, tied up to a wharf in Launceston.


The original Man On is not to be confused with the Hong Kong vehicular ferry built in 1981 and also called Man On – it is still in service today with Bauhinia Harbour Cruise.

Man On on a harbour cruise, originally built as a double deck car ferry


More photos

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