The return of cross-boundary freight trains to Hong Kong

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the world greatly in the past few years, and in March 2022 it saw the return of something gone for a decade – freight trains between Hong Kong and China.

Hong Kong Government photo

The problem

Freight trains once used the MTR East Rail line, transporting live pigs to the slaughterhouse, container trains, and bulk mail, but ended in 2010 due to a decline in usage.

However the COVID-19 pandemic saw freight transport disrupted between Hong Kong and China.

After the Spring Festival in 2022, Hong Kong was hit by the Omicron virus and ushered in an unprecedented fourth wave of the epidemic. Since Hong Kong and the mainland have not been able to clear customs, and Hong Kong people returning to the mainland have to go through a series of strict quarantines before they can use the mainland for their own activities, I thought that the Hong Kong epidemic was limited to the area south of the Shenzhen-Hong Kong border, but the surface Under the calm, there is an undercurrent surging.

At the same time, cross-border logistics truck passages that have been transporting materials to Hong Kong for a long time have also seen cross-border drivers disqualified for failing to work in accordance with epidemic prevention regulations, and more and more drivers were diagnosed and unable to return to work in the mainland. The cargo volume of the land and port plummeted, causing the prices of vegetables, meat and other food in Hong Kong to soar.

A barbed wire fence was erected on the Luohu Bridge in February 2022, for fear that someone would try to sneak between Hong Kong and China via the railway tracks.

Photo via

But some people remembered the days when fresh food came to Hong Kong by train – including He Junxian, a member of the Hong Kong Legislative Council for fisheries and agriculture, who spoke at the meeting of the Hong Kong Legislative Council on February 16, 2022.

“Hong Kong used to have three express trains a day to supply fresh food to Hong Kong. The facilities still exist. It may not be necessary to use the intercity train to deliver the goods to the city center, but the Sheung Shui Slaughterhouse actually still has a railway connection. Through this railway, it only takes 10 minutes to reach Sheung Shui. If the government has the courage to coordinate, it can discuss with Ng Fung Hong whether this place is suitable for their use, or study whether some places can be lent to ensure the supply of some food. Although it is temporarily unusable for vegetables, it is still needed for live pigs. If one of the more than 10 pig truck drivers is infected and may even stop for a while, can the authorities start some research at this moment to make use of the old railway between Sheung Shui and Qingshui River, and Let the central government coordinate and transport the pigs in this way?”

And it appears the wheels started turning, as a week later, the decision was made to implement a cross-border freight service.

On February 24, 2022, the cross-border railway freight train project for Hong Kong was officially launched. Shenzhen formed the Shenzhen Railway Office, the Municipal Hong Kong and Macao Office, the Municipal Port Office, Guangzhou Railway Group, Shenzhen Customs, Shenzhen Border Inspection, Shenzhen International, and Sinotrans. The company and the working group with Longgang District as the main members began to communicate with relevant departments of the Hong Kong SAR government and the MTR Corporation.

Preparations begin

First a freight terminal at each end had to be arranged for the new rail service.

With the rapid development of Shenzhen, Sungang Station, which used to be responsible for operating the “three express trains”, has long been transformed into a modern depot, and the disinfection and quarantine facilities in the past have long since ceased to exist.

Therefore, Shenzhen decided to load the goods at the Pinghu Hunan National Logistics Hub built for container trains. There are supporting container transshipment equipment here, which can fully undertake this important task.

As for the MTR, the Luohu Marshalling Station next to the Luohu Station of the East Rail Line was also selected. This is also the place where the “Metro Cammell EMU” was dismantled recently.

And rolling stock had to be sourced.

The selection of locomotives must be diesel locomotives, because there is no catenary line to facilitate the rapid replacement of containers, and the active diesel locomotives that have entered the port are only DF4B passenger type and DF11 type.

The initial plan discussed with the MTR was to use DF11 diesel locomotives for traction, but later, Guangzhou Railway considered the existing use of locomotives. For example, the DF11 locomotives of Guangzhou Railway will also undertake the hot backup rescue work of various high-speed railway lines in the management, so the DF4B passenger locomotive was finally selected, which is what we call “orange”. It was more than 20 years ago that the DF4B passenger locomotive entered the port.

The train consist was chosen to suit the available sidings.

At the same time, in order to save the time for changing ends, the marshalling form of locomotive + flat car + locomotive is determined. According to the length of the sidings, the container flat car in the middle is also determined to be a 9-car marshalling. The 70t container flat car commonly used in China was chosen.

27 February saw the first trial train operate at Lo Wu.

In the morning, the Hong Kong Transport and Housing Bureau, the MTR and the freight industry conducted a test at the Lo Wu Marshalling Yard. Using a ER20 diesel locomotive and rail cars produced by Dalian Plant to simulate combined trains, and at the same time conduct container lifting and unloading tests in railway freight yards.

And on 1 March an empty train made a trial run across the border.

On that day, the empty train went to Hong Kong for the test. The test train originally scheduled for 9 o’clock in the morning “missed the appointment” again.

Until the afternoon, the Propaganda Department of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China arrived at the Pinghu Hunan Freight Yard with many central media, and filmed the preparation and departure of the empty truck that day.

After entering Hong Kong, the test train cooperated with the MTR, connected with the ER20 locomotive, and carried out related tests such as braking.

Completing tests to Lo Wu.

Photo via

And the service begins

The first official freight service departed Shenzhen on 2 March 2022.

Sinotrans photo

Crossing the border at Lo Wu soon after.

深圳新时速 photo, via

And arriving into the marshalling yard on the Hong Kong side.

伍博 photo, via

Stopped in the sidings.

Photo by Doraemonpaul via

Reach stackers unloading the containers.

Hong Kong Government photo

While the politicians posed for a photo opportunity.

Hong Kong Government photo

The Hong Kong government issuing a media release the same day.

​The railway transportation of goods from the Mainland to Hong Kong commenced today (March 2), with the first train carrying about 50 tonnes of anti-epidemic supplies arriving at Hong Kong this morning.

​The Chief Executive, Mrs Carrie Lam, and the Secretary for Transport and Housing, Mr Frank Chan Fan, together with the Director General of the Youth Department of the Liaison Office of the Central People’s Government in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, Mr Zhang Zhihua; the Chief Executive Officer of the MTR Corporation Limited (MTRCL), Dr Jacob Kam; and the Assistant President of the China Merchants Group Limited, Mr Chu Zongsheng, and others, welcomed the first train transporting goods from the Mainland to Hong Kong at the MTR Lo Wu Marshalling and Railway Freight Yard.

The first cross-boundary cargo train carried nine freight wagons, with 18 containers of anti-epidemic supplies, including COVID-19 rapid antigen test kits, protective clothing, etc. The goods were transported from the Pinghu South Railway Freight Yard in Shenzhen to the Lo Wu Railway Freight Yard in Hong Kong, with a journey of about 40 minutes. There will be one cross-boundary train trip per day at the early stage of the operation. Subject to the demand and handling capacity of the freight yard, train operation will be enhanced progressively.

​Once again, the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) Government expresses gratitude to the Central Government, the Guangdong Provincial Government and the Shenzhen Municipal People’s Government for their staunch support all along. Together, the HKSAR Government and the Mainland authorities have explored and implemented various measures to ensure stable goods supply from the Mainland to Hong Kong. The HKSAR Government also particularly thanks the China State Railway Group Co., Ltd, the China Railway Guangzhou Group Company Limited, the MTRCL and the trade for their active support and facilitation, as well as the effort of various government departments, which have facilitated the launch of the cross-boundary cargo train within a short period of time.

​The HKSAR Government will monitor the situation closely, and continue to work closely with the Mainland authorities, in order to facilitate and implement various measures to ensure a stable goods supply to Hong Kong as well as to optimise the operation of cross-boundary transportation of supplies.

The first train to Hong Kong transported 1,106,560 coronavirus nucleic acid detection kits, 20,000 pieces of protective clothing, and other medical supplies loaded on eighteen 20-foot containers. The one-way trip took 35 minutes.

A total of three return trains were timetabled for the cross-border service, but only one train per day initially ran. From 9 March 2022 the frequency was increased to twice a day, but following a coronavirus wave in Shenzhen from March 18, 2022 the service was dropped back to once a day.

Footnote: quarantine and the Lo Wu border crossing

It’s a little bit lost in translation, but a convoluted procedure has been established to quarantine the staff operating the cross-border rail service.

According to the “China Railway” micro-signal introduction, the Guangzhou Bureau Group Corporation implements closed-loop management of the drivers of the Central Railway’s aid to Hong Kong trains, requiring them to implement centralized management and health monitoring after returning from Hong Kong.

After the health monitoring is over, the nucleic acid test results are all negative before the cross-port transportation task can be continued. After the train driver arrives in Hong Kong, the activity area will be defined as the “two points and one line” between the train and the rest area.

The railway department has also strengthened the management of epidemic prevention and control, and set up “red and green zones” in railway freight yards in accordance with the requirements of epidemic prevention and control. The “red zone” is the unloading area of ​​inbound goods, customs inspection, container and cargo disinfection; the “green zone” is the loading area of ​​inbound goods after disinfection and the loading of mainland supplies to Hong Kong. Set “soft isolation” between “red zone” and “green zone”.

In accordance with the principle of “one train, one operation, one disinfection”, the railway freight yard carries out disinfection in the whole process. A disinfection work ledger is established for all goods, and the disinfection situation is recorded in detail to ensure the safety of materials.

But an even more bizarre procedure is sending out railway staff to disinfect the railway tracks after the train passed over them.

深圳新时速 photo, via

I wonder what infection risk that was intended to address.


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When Hongkong Post rode the rails to China

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

Some history

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. video

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

And on some occasions, diesel locomotives outnumbered the wagons following behind!

Photo by MJ2927 via

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.

International Mail Centre at Hung Hom

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.


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Coupling new and old on the East Rail line

A few years ago I found a photo of an original KCR ‘Yellow Head’ EMU coupled up to a refurbished classmate, but here is a more modern example – coupling a Metro Cammell EMU up to a brand new Hyundai Rotem ‘R-Train’ set.

Video by nozomip328

The uploader provides an explanation of why the two trains needed to be coupled.

Around 17:00 on October 13, 2021 the R train (D034-D036 formation) developed a fault at MTR Kowloon Tong Station, which was suspected to be a malfunction of the power supply, and was coupled to the following MLR train, and transferred to Mong Kok East station.

And online news site hk01 published a video showing the defective train.

Photo via hk01

As well as the story behind the fault.

At around 5 pm today (13th), there was a train at Kowloon Tong Station on the MTR East Rail Line, and sparks exploded between the roof of the train and the overhead cables, and the sparks even scattered on the platform. “Hong Kong 01” obtained a short video of the scene taken by an eyewitness. Seeing the sudden explosion of sparks, many passengers on the platform were also shocked. The eyewitness said that the train had sparks popped out at least 3 times.

The MTR said that a train on the East Rail Line broke down near Kowloon Tong Station and affected the power supply system. minute. About 40 minutes later, the MTR announced that the train had been removed from the traffic lane, and the East Rail Line train services gradually returned to normal.

When the MTR responded to the inquiry at night, it stated that a preliminary inspection found that there was a tree branch on the pantograph of one of the trains involved, and it was initially suspected that the tree branch had come into contact with the overhead power unit and caused the accident. The train operation control centre will arrange for the train to return to the depot for detailed inspection and understand the cause of the failure.

Shocking, eh. ⚡

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MTR JMD1200FX diesel electric locomotives

I’ve written about MTR’s fleet of maintenance and work trains before, but it turns out there is one class of diesel electric locomotives I’ve missed – the JMD1200FX units used on the Hong Kong Express Rail Link.

Jiangsu Jinchuang Vehicle Co. photo

The website (Chinese language) has further details on the JMD1200FX diesel electric locomotives.

The JMD1200FX locomotive is manufactured by Jiangsu Jinchuang Vehicle Co., Ltd. They are used by the MTR Corporation on the Hong Kong section of the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong high-speed railway and are based at the Shek Kong Depot. They are numbered 19001-19003.

The bo-bo locomotives have a top speed is 80km/h and can be operated in multiple unit. Starting traction is 269kN and continuous traction is 182kN.

The locomotive features a CAT C32 V12-cylinder diesel engine, with a power of 895kW (1200 horsepower), coupled to a JF205F synchronous main generator produced by China CNR Yongji New Speed ​​Motor Co., Ltd. Overall weight is 80 tonnes.

A single locomotive can pull a 8-carriage high-speed EMUs (empty weight 490t) or double-head a 16-carriage high-speed EMUs (empty weight 980t) on a 3% gradient at 10km/h.

It can also pull a 8-car high-speed EMU (full load 536t) or double-head a 16-car high-speed EMU (full load 1072t) on a 2% gradient at 15km/h.

On level track it can also pull a 8-car high-speed EMU (full load 536t) or double-head a 16-car high-speed EMU (full load 1072t) up to 60km/h.


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Hong Kong taxi on the streets of Toronto

I’ve written before about Hong Kong double decker buses in Australia, but what about a Hong Kong taxi on the streets of Toronto?

Michael Tsui photo

Hong Kong’s red Toyota Crown Comfort taxis are just as much of the streetscape as double decker buses.

Taxi and a double deck buses on Nathan Road

Be they roaming the streets.

Pack of Hong Kong taxis waiting for a green light

Blocking bus stops.

Hong Kong taxis stopped in a bus zone

Queued up at the airport.

Taxi queuing area to the north of the terminal building

Or on a country road

Hong Kong urban taxi, a Toyota Comfort

But a place you don’t expect to see one is on the streets of Canada.

Michael Tsui photo

Chris Tsui from The Drive explains how it came to be there.

A little background on how this particular Hong Kong taxi found itself on the streets of Toronto, Canada, though. It is, strictly speaking, a replica but quite a good one. Apparently starting out life as a taxi in Japan, it’s a 1997 Toyota Crown Comfort LPG that was shipped over to Toronto to be used as a movie-and-TV prop. Painted red and silver to emulate a taxi from HK, it can be seen briefly in 2013’s Pacific Rim.

In November 2021, current owner Alan Wu bought it and has spent much of the past year restoring and doing it up, getting it to look as much like the real thing as he can.

That means yellow interior stickers in both English and traditional Chinese outlining how much your ride is going to cost and what you are and aren’t allowed to do, a wood-bead cover on the driver’s seat, and that red “TAXI” light that flips up on the dash to let people know whether you’re taking passengers or not. The rooflight actually works. There’s a little device that prints receipts, a red coin box with the word “ECO” printed on it for some reason, and an entire squad of cell phones of varying vintage stuck above the gauge cluster. And the aftermarket audio system was tuned to Chinese talk radio. It really is the full HK taxi experience.

A definite labour of love.

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