Railfanning on the MTR East Rail line

After ‘What should I go and see in Hong Kong?‘ the most common question I am asked is ‘Where can I go to take photos of trains in Hong Kong?’. So here is a cleaned up version of an email I sent to a reader some time ago, detailing photography locations along the MTR East Rail Line.

Passing the lake at Tai Po Kau

Background information

Photography from the platforms didn’t seem to be an issue. The only time anyone said anything was when I was photographing the signals at Mong Kok East station: someone came down and asked me (in English) what I was up to photographing the equipment. I said I was one holiday and interested in trains, they said that was okay and let me continue.

During my trip I spent a few afternoons lineside along the East Rail line: most of the time I was catching the train and walking, but one afternoon I borrowed a bike from my cousins and rode from near University station up towards Tai Po. The area around Tai Po Kau is nice, but at long way away if you were to walk from a railway station. (more about bike rental at the HK Cycling Alliance website)

As for timetables for the Through Trains, the MTR website doesn’t list intermediate times – only Hung Hom. I usually allowed 15 minutes for Hung Hom – Sha Tin, and another 15 minutes for them to reach Fanling. Timekeeping is rather loose, so I made sure I turned up earlier than I expected the train to turn up. Sometimes they seemed to be 30 minutes or so late. The Guangdong train is run by either the KTT push-pull set, or the loco hauled carriages. The printed timetable I had said if the KTT was operating a given service. Usually the SS8 electric locos were used, I did see the DF11 diesels a few times back in December 2010, but I was told seeing diesels is not normal.

There are also the Beijing and Shanghai trains, the alternate day to day. Timekeeping for them is even worse, probably because they travel so far to get to Hong Kong. The main difference from the Guangdong train is the carriages: the Beijing / Shanghai carriages have side skirts, and look more white than blue. You can find the timetables on Wikipedia:

If standing on the platform, the next train displays will tell you when a non-stopping train is coming. Most of the time it will be a through train. The Chinese version of “not stopping” is 5 characters, the usual station names are only 2 or three.

"Not stopping" on the display at Mong Kok East The Chinese version of "Non Stopping Train" on the display

Another thing to keep an eye out for is the ex-KCR locomotive fleet. You can usually see one loco stabled at the way and works depot near Fo Tan station.

Loco 62 at Fo Tan Depot

Exit Fo Tan station at the south end, take the east exit, cross the road towards “Fo Tan Railway House” and cross the foot bridge that heads east.

You can also find diesel locomotives lurking around the depot at Hung Hom: exit the station to the bus interchange, then look over the edge of the station deck onto the track below, where the freight yard is.

Locomotive depot at Hung Hom

One chance to see the diesels out on the main line is between 3pm and 3.30pm each day (I’m not sure if it is just weekdays, or weekends as well). A light engine move leaves Hung Hom around 3pm to 3.30pm for Fo Tan station, the locos get serviced at Hung Hom but the works trains are based out of Fo Tan.

Now for photo locations

Shooting from the “opposite” platform can be troublesome: with the normal MTR EMUs running so frequently they will probably block your shot, which is a pain.

Hung Hom is pretty constrained, lots of overhead stanchions and buildings in the way.

Either end of the Mong Kok East northbound platform works, but you will need a telephoto lens (100mm or more). The shot is pretty “head on”.

Train under the noise barriers at Mong Kok East

Kowloon Tong is rather tight for getting any photos.

Exiting the Beacon Hill tunnel at Kowloon Tong

Tai Wai is a boring straight platform.

Sha Tin has a footbridge at the south end which isn’t too far to walk. I didn’t try it myself.

The stretch of line between Sha Tin and Fo Tan is walkable, and there are a number of footbridges across the line you can shoot from. The walls on the bridges are rather high, I am about 6 foot tall and had a bit of trouble seeing over. A highway parallels the railway on this stretch. I took a number of photos from there.

Southbound KTT between Fo Tan and Sha Tin stations

Just south of Fo Tan is a spot at ground level. The metal picket fence is about 5 foot high, you can either shoot over the top, through the bars, or step back from it. Exit the station to the south, take the east exit, instead of crossing the road to Fo Tan Railway House, follow the footpath south. It goes downhill, and you end up at the railway.

SS8 0173 leads out of Fo Tan southbound

Just south of University station is a footbridge above a curve: exit the station to the south-east, follow the footpath along the railway, there will be steps up to after a while.

SS8 0173 leads through the curves near University station

There is another footbridge a bit further south from the previous spot, but I’m not a big fan of it – the road gets in the way.

Chinese diesel hauling a northbound Through Train

At University station itself you can get a shot in either direction, there are sharp curves at each end. You just have to be lucky to not have a train on the other track.

SS8 0186 northbound at University station

I mentioned Tai Po Kau earlier, where the railway exits a tunnel then runs beside a lake, then over a creek. It is a decent bike ride to get there from anywhere else, but a very scenic area.

Through Train lakeside at Tai Po Kau

Double deck carriages of the KTT set

If you ride to Tai Po Kau from University station via the Tolo Harbour bike path, there is an elevated embankment near Science Park, where you can get a clear photo over the lineside fences.

KTT passes Science Park northbound

I didn’t spend any time at Tai Po Market or Tai Wo stations, so can’t say much there.

Between Tai Wo and Fanling looks nice from the train, but the area is very isolated, so I didn’t check it out.

Finally, between Sheung Shui and Fanling is a long piece of straight track, there is a footbridge to the north of Fanling that I spent a while at. Exit the station to the north-east, follow the road headed north past the sporting ground and the swimming pool, and the ramp should be right ahead.

SS8 0186 southbound between Sheung Shui and Fanling

I hope the above helps somebody else out!

Google Map

Here is a map showing each of the locations detailed above, as well as the walking / cycling route from the nearest MTR station.

View Railfanning on the MTR East Rail line in a larger map


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More on the pre-electrification Kowloon Canton Railway

Following up from my previous post about the Kowloon Canton Railway pre-electrification, here is another great find from YouTube – this time a 30 minute long film containing extensive footage of the KCR during the 1960s and 1970s.

A timeline of what there is to see:

  • 00:00 Intro – Kowloon Canton Railway British Section
  • 00:15 Original Tsim Sha Tsui terminus
  • 00:30 KCR #54 at Tsim Sha Tsui terminus
  • 00:40 KCR footage along the line
  • 01:10 Train passes Sheraton Hotel at the original Tsim Sha Tsui terminus
  • 01:30 Passenger train arrival at Tsim Sha Tsui platform 3
  • 01:50 Goods platforms 1 and 2 at Tsim Sha Tsui
  • 02:05 Inside the Tsim Sha Tsui booking hall
  • 02:30 Tsim Sha Tsui platforms
  • 02:45 Inside the carriages
  • 03:20 Down end of the Tsim Sha Tsui terminus
  • 03:40 Looking out the back window departing original Tsim Sha Tsui station
  • 04:15 Original Hum Hom yard
  • 04:30 Passing a freight at Mongkok station
  • 04:50 Former Tunnel #1 north of Mongkok (150 feet long)
  • 05:20 Rear view from the back window while running along the single track
  • 06:55 Original Beacon Hill Tunnel – tunnel #2
  • 06:10 Track side around Sha Tin
  • 06:15 Crossing the Shing Mun River
  • 06:30 Sha Tin station
  • 06:50 Following the shoreline of Tolo Harbour
  • 07:05 Entering tunnel #3
  • 07:15 University station
  • 07:50 Crossing an inlet of Tolo Harbour
  • 08:30 Tai Po Kau station
  • 09:30 Passing a level crossing
  • 09:35 Tai Po Market station
  • 10:50 Crossing the Lam Tsuen River
  • 11:05 Trains through rural countryside
  • 11:10 Running beside the main water pipeline from China
  • 11:25 Running through a level crossing
  • 11:35 Junction for the Wo Hop Shek cemetery branch
  • 11:45 Fanling station and yard
  • 12:15 Train arriving for a cross at Fanling
  • 12:45 Chinese mail van attached to KCR train
  • 12:55 Departing Fanling
  • 13:20 Sheung Shui station, has no crossing loop
  • 13:25 KCR #59 heads past light engine
  • 13:40 Distant shot in the countryside
  • 14:00 Border crossing at Lo Wu
  • 14:05 Semaphore distant signal
  • 14:10 Inside the trains
  • 14:35 Semaphore home signals
  • 14:40 Train on the Wo Hop Shek cemetery branch
  • 15:00 Wo Hop Shek station
  • 15:15 Hand staff exchange between train crew and station staff
  • 16:00 Crowds at Wo Hop Shek station
  • 16:15 Around the Wo Hop Shek cemetery
  • 16:40 Shunting trains at Wo Hop Shek
  • 17:05 Graphic warning signage
  • 17:15 Boom barriers installed at all level crossings between 1975-76
  • 17:45 New engine shed at Hung Hom
  • 17:55 Hi-rail vehicles and Dodge rail bus
  • 18:25 New railway workshops at Ho Tung Lau (opened in 1968)
  • 18:30 KCR #56 passes Ho Tung Lau workshops
  • 18:55 More view of the workshops
  • 19:05 KCR #60 passes beneath new bridges at Hung Hom
  • 19:25 Overview of the future site of Hung Hom terminus
  • 19:40 Newly completed tunnel #1A
  • 20:00 Exiting tunnel #1A
  • 20:15 Last passenger train with KCR #54 departs original Tsim Sha Tsui terminus
  • 21:15 KCR #53 removes last freight wagons
  • 21:41 KCR #51 removes last passenger coaches
  • 22:00 Slewing mainline at Ho Man Tin to connect new Hung Hom station
  • 23:20 Around the new Hung Hom station
  • 23:30 First train to new Hung Hom station
  • 24:30 Traverser in use at Hung Hom to release locomotives from the dead end roads
  • 25:00 Hung Hom station concourse, escalators and platforms
  • 25:55 Trains departing Hung Hom
  • 26:50 Freight trains along the line
  • 27:20 Hung Hom freight yard
  • 27:35 Demolishing the typhoon damaged Shing Mun River bridge in 1976
  • 28:10 Replacement bridge operational in six weeks
  • 28:30 Push-pull train, temporary platforms and bus connections in use during the bridge replacement works
  • 30:00 Temporary freight handing facilities
  • 30:15 First through train from Canton on 4.4.1979 hauled by Chinese DF3 diesel
  • 31:00 Chinese DF3 diesel running around and on turntable
  • 32:00 Chinese DF2 diesel hired by the KCR during a motive power shortage
  • 32:30 View of track duplication works in the late 1970s
  • 32:40 Early stages of electrification works at Hong Hom
  • 32:50 Temporary station at Mongkok
  • 33:00 New station at Kowloon Tong
  • 33:10 New Beacon Hill Tunnel at Kowloon Tong
  • 33:35 New stations at Sha Tin and Racecourse
  • 34:30 Diesel train passes new Metro Cammell EMUs
  • 34:50 Metro Cammell EMUs at Ho Tung Lau depot
  • 35:00 Final KCR diesel passenger train departs Hung Hom with KCR #51 and #52
  • 35:55 Through train in the New Territories
  • 36:10 Last diesel special passes by, double headed
  • 36:50 The End
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Railfan’s guide to Hong Kong

This blog has been online for over two years, and in that time I have received many emails from fellow railway enthusiasts asking me for advice regarding things to see and do during their upcoming visits to Hong Kong. As with any frequently asked question, after a while I had settled on a standard set of answers, which I’ve posted here. I’ll start with the non-railway related sights, but you can skip straight to the trains.

Things to see and do

Hong Kong has more to see and do other than look a trains – here are a short list of the touristy things that I recommend, ordered by how much I enjoyed them. You can find more information about the sights at the regularly updated and reliable “Hong Kong Extras” website.

Victoria Peak
– Catch the Peak Tram to the top.
– Head up in the afternoon, and watch the sun go down and the city lights come on.
– When I was there, if you have an Octopus Card you can skip the line at the bottom station, and walk straight up to the turnstiles.
– You can also get a bus to the top: it’s a bit cheaper but takes longer. The view is different, but not that exciting compared to the tram.

A bit of breathing room at the top

Star Ferry
– The Star Ferry crosses Victoria Harbour, which separates Hong Kong Island and Kowloon.
– Worth going upper deck one way, lower deck the other – you will see things a bit differently.

Star Ferry 'Morning Star' with the Kowloon side in the background

Hong Kong Island lights by night
– Catch the Star Ferry to Tsim Sha Tsui, take a right out of the ferry terminal, and follow the promenade.

Nighttime along Victoria Harbour

Temple Street night market
– Kowloon side has plenty of night markets, but they all sell the same stuff, so only need to visit one.
– You can take a slow walk from north end of market to the waterfront at Tsim Sha Tsui in an hour or three.
– Otherwise start at one end and walk along, then take MTR back to where you started.

Busy night at the market

Big Buddha on Lantau Island
– Visiting the Big Buddha will take up an entire day.
– See the big Budddha statue at the monastery, as well as the sights from the Nyong Ping 360 cable car, and view the Hong Kong International Airport from the hills high above.
– Take MTR Tung Chung line to Tung Chung and change to the cable car.
– The queue to board will be massive in the morning, possibly go in the afternoon then head home just before closing time.
– There is also a bus up to Nyong Ping, but takes a while to wind through the mountains.

Tian Tan Buddha on Lantau Island

Outlying Islands
Another destination that will take up an entire day, but it shows a different side of Hong Kong. The easiest islands to get to are Cheung Chau or Lamma.
Cheung Chau is the more touristy of the two, but is a holiday resort aimed at Hong Kong locals – lots of restaurants, and you can go walking up in the hills.
Lamma Island is much quieter, a bit more Westernised because lots of foreign workers live there.

Bikes parked on the ferry pier

Aberdeen, Stanley and Repulse Bay
All three are on south side of Hong Kong Island, and can be reached by bus.
– I’ve never visited Aberdeen. Known for fishing boats and the floating seafood restaurants.
– To me Stanley is overrated: the market is just the same as all the other markets around Hong Kong, and there isn’t much else there to see or do.
– Repulse Bay is just a beach and a temple. I wouldn’t bother with it either.

Trains, trams and other transport

Hong Kong Tramways
– Runs along the north side of Hong Kong Island, with narrow gauge double deck trams.
– The full trip takes 1.5 hours, but unless you have heaps of time it isn’t worth riding end-to-end, as the outer ends of the route are much the same – interchangeable 1960s apartment blocks.
– My suggestion: start at Western Market terminus in Sheung Wan and head east to Causeway Bay or Happy Valley, a trip of around 30 minutes.
– To ensure you snag the best seat (front row of the upper deck) head to the tram terminus where the empty trams turn around.

Hong Kong tram #59 catches the sun

Suggested short Mass Transit Railway tours
Two suggested routes that give you the ‘essence’ of the MTR:
– Tsuen Wan line from Tsim Sha Tsui, change to Kwun Tong Line via the cross platform interchange at Mong Kok. Change to East Rail at Kowloon Tong. Change to West Rail at Hung Hom. Take train to Tsim Sha Tsui East, where you wander through even more underground subways.
– Head along the Island Line between Sheung Wan and Causeway Bay stations, possibly combined with a trip back on the Hong Kong Tramway. Don’t get confused by Chai Wan Station at the other end of the line!

A pretty full train at Kowloon Tong bound for Yau Ma Tei: full of passengers who changed from the East Rail line

MTR interesting bits
– Island Line is mostly bored tunnels, with the platforms being London-style tubes.
– Everything else is cut and cover, so the platforms are much bigger.
– See those two types of station design, you’ve seen it all!
– Trains mostly the same across the network, except for for the MTR East Rail, which runs 12-car long EMUs.

Busiest bits of the MTR
Some interchanges where you will see massive crowds of people during peak times are:
– Kowloon Tong platforms, above ground
– Mong Kok, cross platform interchange
– Admiralty, cross platform interchange

Platforms without full height gates
The majority of station on the MTR now have full height platform screen doors, which makes taking photos difficult. The exceptions are:
– Island Line: Heng Fa Chuen + Chai Wan.
– Kwun Tong Line: Kowloon Bay, Ngau Tau Kok, Kwun Tong.
– Tsuen Wan Line: Kwai Fong, Kwai Hing, Tsuen Wan.
– Entire Ma On Shan and East Rail Lines.

Above ground railways
There are a few places where you can get lineside to take photos of MTR trains:
– Kwun Tong line from Kowloon Bay to Kwun Tong stations.
– Tsuen Wan line through Kwai Fong and Kwai Hing stations
– Island line at the eastern end.
– Majority of the Tung Chung and Airport Express lines.
– All of the East Rail and Ma On Shan lines.
– New Territories end of the West Rail line.

Running along a viaduct, a northbound train arrives into Kwai Fong station

Disneyland Resort Line
– The only 100% driverless line of the MTR network.
– You can see out the front window of the train due to the lack of staff.
– Located out of the urban area of Hong Kong, it so takes 20 or so min to get out there.
– If not going to Disneyland, then you can still do an out and back trip using your Octopus card, and pay nothing much for the privilege.

Chinese locomotives
– Try Mong Kok East (not Mong Kok) station to see the intercity trains pass through.
– The extreme ends of the platform are the best locations to take photos from, just stand away from the platform edge.
– When I was there I didn’t have any trouble with station staff.
– Platform announcements will tell you when a ‘non stopping train’ is approaching.
– The train timetable is here – ‘Guangzhou East’ is the Chinese end of the trip, and ‘Hung Hom’ is the Hong Kong end.
– Trains usually leave Hung Hom on time, with Mong Kok East being 5 minutes down the line.
– Southbound trains can be rather late, depending on delays elsewhere.
– Services marked ‘Ktt’ use a different double deck train set, but all other services are Chinese stock.

Northbound Through Train at Fo Tan

MTR Light Rail
– A modern light rail network located in the New Territories.
– It operates with a fleet of modern single-directional trams on mostly reserved track.
– Catch the MTR West Rail line to get there.
– If you’re interested in trams then head out there for a look, but for anyone else it isn’t worth the effort.

Phase 1 LRV 1019 passing 'village houses' at San Hui

Hong Kong Railway Museum
– Located way out in the New Territories, to get there is a 30 minute train ride, followed by a 15 minute walk.
– There isn’t much out there other than a “non-refurbished” TL class, some carriages, and a some informative displays.
– If you are only in Hong Kong a few days, it is probably not worth the trip.

Other tips

Arriving at Hong Kong
– Catching the bus into the city is much cheaper than the Airport Express train.
– Make sure you buy an Octopus Card (I’m pretty sure you can buy one from the airport – otherwise head to the customer service window at any station)

Heading back to airport
– Take the Airport Express train because of the in town check in – drop off your bags at the railway station, and don’t worry about them until you arrive at your destination airport.
– Have a look at the automated train in the airport basement when you get there. It runs out the the far end of the gates in one direction, but you can always walk back to your gate if it is in the other part of the terminal.

Travel tips
The Octopus card has a 90 minute time limit on train trips. This means if you enter station ‘X’, ride the MTR network without passing through any ticket barriers, then exit at the station next to ‘X’ within the time limit, you only get charged the minimum fare.
This trick works well if you want to explore the MTR network without paying through the nose. Just keep in mind that if you take longer than 90 minutes you will be locked inside the station: to get out you’ll need to talk to a customer service officer to be let out, after explaining what station you travelled from and paying the relevant fare.


Don’t forget about the “Hong Kong Extras” website when planning your trip – they’ve got details of how to get almost anywhere a tourist would want to go.

Posted in Tourism | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

My 2010 trip photos: finally complete!

It has taken me almost two years, but I have finally finished uploading the last of my 2010 Hong Kong trip photos to Flickr. All up I took 10,131 photos during my two and a bit week holiday, with 2,391 of them now available online – you’ll find the entire collection here – 100% captioned, and mostly geotagged.

Compare that with my 2004 trip to Hong Kong, where I took only 242 photos, and uploaded 50 of them. My next project will be uploading the handful of photos I took during my 1998 visit: so far I’ve only gotten around to scanning a handful of prints.

Posted in Housekeeping | Tagged | 1 Comment

Locating photos with Google Streetview

When I go on holiday I take a lot of photos, and when I get home and upload them, I make sure I caption them accurately. Getting the location correct is easy to do when I geotag the photos, but sometimes I forget to carry my GPS datalogger with me, which results in photos like the one below, where I don’t have any location information to go with it.

Walk up apartments and tree covered hillsides

Thankfully I took a number of other photos about 30 minutes either side of this one, and once I visit somewhere, I’m usually able to find it again on a map with a bit of digging around. In the case of the photo above I was travelling on a bus between my 姑媽’s (father’s elder sister) house in the New Territories and Tsim Sha Tsui, crossing the Kowloon Hills via Tai Po Road.

With that in mind, I jumped on Google Maps and followed Tai Po Road down from the hills towards Kowloon, looking for side streets that faced a hillside. After a bit of scrolling around, I finally found the same street as my photo – Wong Chuk Street, Sham Shui Po, Kowloon, Hong Kong.

View Larger Map

On closer inspection the same grey and white van is parked in both photos, and the price of carpark is the same – $12 an hour or $55 per day.

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