Shrinking East Rail line trains from 12 to 9 cars

Hong Kong’s rail network is being transformed by the Shatin to Central Link project, with the final change to train fleet having just kicked off – cutting back the length of East Rail line trains from 12 cars to 9.

The Shatin to Central Link project is seeing the East Rail line extended under Victoria Harbour from Hung Hom to Admiralty, via a fourth cross harbour tunnel, along with an intermediate station at Exhibition Centre in Wan Chai.

Excavations for the future Exhibition station in Wan Chai

But these two new stations have a limitation – the platforms are only nine carriages long, too short for the 12-car long trains currently used on the East Rail Line, so a fleet reconfiguration is taking place:

  • The 40 year old Metro-Cammell trains are being retired,
  • SP1900 trains on the West Rail line have been extended from 7 to 8 cars,
  • SP1900 trains on Ma On Shan line have been extended from 4 to 8 cars, and
  • 43 new 9-car Hyundai Rotem EMUs have been purchased for the East Rail Line.

The MTR Corporation believes the shorter trains will be able to handle the expected patronage.

The new 9-car trains, with their wider body and newly designed interior, will provide a more spacious and comfortable travelling environment for passengers. They are equipped with dynamic route maps and gangway displays, providing more information for passengers during their journeys. Passengers will be able to ride on the new EAL trains from mid-2020 when the first of the new 9-car trains enters service.

With the extension of the Ma On Shan line into urban Kowloon, including an interchange to the Kwun Tong line at Diamond Hill.

Shatin to Central link work site at Diamond Hill station

And a massive new interchange at Hung Hom.

MTR East Rail train passes Shatin to Central Link works at Ho Man Tin

Relieving pressure on the existing East Rail Line service.

The busiest section of the East Rail Line (ERL) is the section from Tai Wai Station to Kowloon Tong Station, which is currently the only way to the urban areas for commuters of the ERL and the Ma On Shan Line (MOL).

In this regard, the SCL section between Tai Wai and Hung Hom scheduled for completion in 2018 will connect with the West Rail Line (WRL) and the MOL to form the “East West Corridor” (EWC). The 7-car trains running in WRL and 4-car trains in MOL will altogether become 8-car trains running along EWC. As such, the railway link will not only increase the carrying capacity, but will also play a vital part in diversion of passengers.

In 2020, the SCL will extend to Admiralty and form the “North South Corridor” (NSC) with the ERL. Upon full commissioning of the NSC, we estimate that about 20% of the passengers from the section between Tai Wai and Kowloon Tong will switch to the SCL for onward trips to Kowloon East and Hong Kong Island, thus alleviating the loading of the ERL.

The MTR also stated that building stations for 12 car long trains on Hong Kong Island was not possible.

The underground utilities and foundations of buildings along the northern shore of Hong Kong Island is congested, leaving limited sites or space for the construction of railway stations. As such, trains running along the NSC connecting Lo Wu Station and Admiralty Station will have to be changed from 12-car trains currently serving the ERL to 9-car trains.

And that the upgraded signalling system would allow more trains to run than before.

To tie in with the enhancement of the signalling system, however, the headway will be shortened from about three minutes currently to about two minutes during peak hours, enabling the NSC to operate with a carrying capacity similar to that of the ERL.

6 February 2021 saw the first 9-car train run in revenue service on the East Rail Line.

“Mixed fleet operations” with existing 12-car trains requiring extra signage on platforms.

MTR Corporation photo

Telling passengers where to board the shorter trains.

MTR Corporation photo

Along with extra information on the passenger information displays to show the length of upcoming trains.

MTR Corporation photo

The transition to shorter trains is expected to be complete by the end of 2021.

Footnote on first class carriages

The MTR East Rail line is unusual in having a ‘First Class’ carriage on each service.

Boarding the first class carriage at Kowloon Tong

The new 9-car long trains are no different, which has an interesting side effect – the First Class section now takes up 11% of train capacity, compared to the previous 8%.

And signalling delays

Back in April 2020 the MTR Corporation announced that the introduction of new 9-car trains on the East Rail line would occur in mid-2020.

MTR Corporation photo

Stating in their media release.

The MTR Corporation announced today that construction of the Shatin to Central Link (SCL) will achieve a new project milestone in mid-2020, with the commissioning of the new signalling system and the introduction of new 9-car trains into passenger service in preparing for the extension of the East Rail Line (EAL) across the harbour to Admiralty Station.

Meanwhile, the new 9-car trains will be introduced as a required standard to cope with space constraints on the tracks on Hong Kong Island. The existing 12-car trains will gradually be replaced by new 9-car trains under a programme that would take place by phases over the coming 18 months.

“The new 9-car trains will gradually replace the existing 12-car trains over a period of time. For a while there will be a mix of 9 and 12-car trains, ie Mixed Fleet Operations. We will ensure that comprehensive measures will be introduced to facilitate passenger familiarization with the arrangements for Mixed Fleet Operations,” said Mr Sammy Wong, Chief of Operating of MTR Corporation.

“Passengers will be guided by prominent signage, clear public announcements and additional customer service staff in stations. We would like to thank passengers in advance for their cooperation in helping us through this critical stage of the project,” he added.

And some prophetic words.

“The new signalling system and the new trains have already gone through stringent testing, as is the case for all new train introduction and new major signalling system enhancements. In the event of unforeseeable teething problems in the initial period of this work, the Corporation has prepared a contingency plan to deal with any railway service disruption and our team of engineers and contractors will continue to work closely in a professional manner to ensure that any impact to customers and train service is kept to a minimum,” said Mr Wong. “We will strive to deal with the issue quickly while providing timely information and assistance.”

August 2020 saw the ‘go’ date set for the new trains and signalling system.

The MTR Corporation announced today (28 August 2020) that, in preparation for extending the East Rail Line (EAL) across the harbour to Admiralty Station, the commissioning of the new
signalling system on the EAL will take place on 12 September 2020 (Saturday). From this date, new 9-car trains will be progressively introduced on the EAL. This is an important milestone for Shatin to Central Link (SCL) project.

But the changeover was cancelled at the last minute.

MTR has postponed the commissioning of signalling and the rollout of new trains on the East Rail Line (EAL), following the discovery of technical issues with the signalling system.

The announcement was abruptly made by the operator on September 11 shortly before commissioning of signalling on the line was due to begin. The news follows the discovery of route-setting problems, which could potentially cause a train to deviate from its intended route, and instead follow the train in front to its destination.

MTR says it will wait until a technical solution has been found before redeploying the new signalling system. However, it insists that the issue does not pose a safety risk due to the network’s use of automatic train protection (ATP).

The signalling was installed by Siemens as part of a $HK 850m ($US 109.7m) contract awarded in December 2012 for the upgrading of signalling on the EAL.

MTR says it will set up an investigation panel in response to the issue, which is expected to submit a report to the Hong Kong government within three months.

The panel is chaired by Mr Edmund Leung, former president of the Hong Kong Institution of Engineers, and is expected to make inquiries into MTR’s knowledge of, and response to the technical issues, the operator’s internal reporting processes, and whether the process for informing the government was timely or appropriate. The panel may also recommend measures to address these issues.

December 2020 saw the MTR Corporation receive the investigation panel report.

The MTR Corporation announced today (10 December 2020) that it has received the Report from the Investigation Panel looking into the postponement of the commissioning of East Rail Line new signalling system.

The Investigation Panel has been briefed on the initial findings of the technical investigation conducted in parallel by the Corporation. The main tasks of the technical investigation are to confirm the root cause of the issue leading to the postponement, and to identify the technical solution.

It is noted by both the Investigation Panel and the technical investigation team that the issue has not affected railway safety. In consultation with the Government departments involved, the Corporation is continuing to test the new signalling system to ensure the effectiveness of the technical solution and smooth train operations.

“The additional tests will be conducted during non-traffic hours. We believe they will ensure the effectiveness of the technical solution to the issue identified in the complex new signalling system. East Rail Line train service will continue to run normally using existing trains under the existing signalling system,” said the spokesperson.

With the cause of the issues made public in January 2021.

Safety has been reaffirmed by the technical investigation, which has shown that the concerned issue was caused by a non-safety critical software module being overloaded by a new software module specifically built for the Corporation to provide extra train monitoring information to the Operations Control Centre. The contractor has resolved the issue by upgrading the software and stopping the new software module. The Investigation Panel has during its course of the investigation referenced the findings of the technical investigation.

With the report stating.

Subsequent to the deferral of the planned Mixed Fleet Operation (MFO) of the East Rail Line (EAL) on 12 September 2020 due to the “Route Recall (RR)” Issue of the Automatic Train Supervision (ATS) subsystem in the new signalling system, a technical investigation on the root cause of the RR Issue together with other technical issues related to the launching of EAL new signalling system has been conducted by the Technical Investigation Core Team comprising MTR Operations and Projects teams, Siemens (the Contractor) and External Technical Advisors.

The Core Team has conducted a series of simulation and train testing in the non-traffic hours (NTH) on 12, 19 and 28 October 2020 and reviewed all the observed results to ascertain the root cause of the RR Issue and develop the technical solutions.

The investigation confirmed that the RR Issue is not a safety issue but a service reliability issue. It could lead to potential routing of a train to an unintended destination and may generate false “Signal Passed at Danger (SPAD)” alarms.

It was attributed to the unexpected high volume of data in the new Fault Classification Update (FCU) software routine between two ATS modules, which was a non-standard software specifically built by the Contractor as an add-on feature to fulfil MTRCL’s requirement to provide extra train monitoring information to the Traffic Controller in Operations Control Centre (OCC). The root cause of the RR Issue is due to the software defect in the new FCU software routine which was not identified during testing carried out by the Contractor.

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Extending the MTR using a tunnel *dismantling* machine

Normally when building a new underground railway, a tunnel boring machine will be used to excavate the subterranean path for trains to run along. But in the case of the MTR West Island Line project, they needed to do the opposite – use a tunnel *dismantling* machine to demolish an existing tunnel.

The West Island Line project extended the MTR network west to Kennedy Town.

And was constructed as an extension of the existing Island Line at Sheung Wan.

However the path of the new tunnels overlapped with an existing overrun tunnel at Sheung Wan.

Which was lined with precast concrete rings.

MTR train approaches Sheung Wan Station

So a world first solution was developed – a tunnel dismantling machine.

Removing the tunnel lining segments one by one, and then backfilling the void left behind.

Leaving solid ground for a conventional tunnel boring machine to excavate through.

Digging deeper

The MTR project newsletter describes the process.

Part of the future railway tunnel alignment is overlapping with the existing Sheung Wan Station overrun tunnel. The overlapping section has to be demolished, removing the tunnel lining as it contains reinforcement bars that would damage the Tunnel Boring Machine constructing the new tunnel.

In order to ensure the successful completion of the works with minimium impact to the community, several options were reviewed but each one had difficulties associated with it. Compared to opencut excavation or demolishing the lining with hand tools, using a Tunnel Dismantling Machine (TDM) would minimize both the traffic and environmental impacts of noise and dust nuisance. The workers’
health and the underground stability can both be assured by using the TDM. For these works, the contractor of the MTR Corporation developed the world’s first bespoke TDM to dismantle the Sheung
Wan Station overrun tunnel.

After assembling the French-designed TDM, tunnel dismantling work started underneath Queen Street driving westwards in mid-May. The TDM pressurises the void in front of the machine at 2.8 Bar (equivalent to the pressure 28m below water) to retain the ground when removing the lining. Tunnel lining segments of about 1m wide and 30cm thick are then removed by the TDM. Sprayed concrete is applied on the tunnel wall as temporary support, with the dismantled tunnel then backfilled with concrete. The tunnel dismantling works are anticipated to be completed by the end of the year.

With further detail in a paper presented at the 2017 International Conference on Transportation Geotechnics and Geoecology.

The MTR West Island Line (WIL) project in Hong Kong involved demolishing and backfilling a 132 m section of the existing Overrun Tunnel (ORT) through complex geology beneath densely populated urban area, in order to enable subsequent excavation of the WIL Down-track (westbound) running tunnel by tunnel boring machine (TBM).

To tackle the challenge while minimizing construction risks, a bespoke tunnel dismantling machine (TDM) was innovated. The TDM worked backwards from the operational railway interface inside the ORT to remove each lining segment ring under 2.8 bar compressed air pressure, sprayed shotcrete lining for temporary support, and backfilled the remaining void left underground. The crew behind the demolition chamber of TDM worked under atmospheric pressure. Part of the backfilled tunnel was then re-excavated by slurry TBM to form the re-aligned WIL Down-track running tunnel.

The TDM was able to accomplish the works safely and led to the successful opening of WIL. This paper explicates the development of the world-wide unprecedented TDM and the construction process of ORT demolition.

Further reading

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Souvenir sales on the Hong Kong MTR

Hong Kong’s MTR system is famous around the world, so perhaps it is no surprise that a wide variety of official souvenirs are available.

Souvenirs for sale at the MTR Tourist Services store at West Kowloon Terminus

The range includes such trinkets like watches with an Octopus chip inside, allowing you to pay for travel.

Peppa Pig Octopus watches  on sale at the customer service counter

Limited edition items like this series of eight different Nanoblock trains.

MTR Nanoblock trains for sale at the MTR Tourist Services store at West Kowloon Terminus

And souvenir ticket sets – for Chinese New Year.

MTR network anniversaries.

Plus popular characters like Disney Tsum Tsum.


And Doraemon.

The items can be purchased from MTR ‘Tourist Services’ outlets – located at Admiralty Station, Hong Kong West Kowloon Station, Airport Station and Hong Kong International Airport.

'Tourist Services' ticket and souvenir store at Admiralty station

MTR souvenir store and customer service centre at Airport station

A limited range is also for sale at customer service counters across the MTR network.

Customer service counter and ticket gates at Kennedy Town Station

But the MTR Souvenirs online store (note the odd looking URL) carries the complete range.

Footnote on model trains

Scale models of MTR trains are sometimes available – such as these diecast models.

Diecast models of MTR trains

With 80M Bus Model Shop the place to go for the widest range.

80M Bus Model Shop at Langham Place

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Hong Kong’s archaic English and ‘Litter cum Recyclable Collection Bins’

There is something that seemingly every English speaking tourist snickers about when visiting Hong Kong – the “Litter cum Recyclable Collection Bins” found on every street corner.

'Litter cum Recyclable Collection Bin' at Kowloon Park

In this case “cum” is the archaic Latin word which means “combined with” – not the double entendre.

'Litter cum recyclable' bin

In 2014 the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department received complaints about the “unpleasant meaning”, so commenced a program to cover over the offending word.

Censored 'Litter Cum Recyclables Collection Bin' in Hong Kong

But in the years since many of the stickers have been peeled off.

'Litter cum recyclables collection bin'

But that isn’t all

Tung Chung has a “Fire Station cum Ambulance Depot”.

Folding doors at the Tung Chung Fire Station cum Ambulance Depot

The Hong Kong Society for the Blind runs a ‘Factory cum Sheltered Workshop’.

'Factory cum Sheltered Workshop'

But the one that really takes the cake is the ‘Public Toilet Cum Bathhouse’ I found on Cheung Chau.

Cheung Chau Peak Road 'Public Toilet Cum Bathhouse'

Further reading

Mary Hui covers this topic in great detail in a piece titled ‘Hong Kong has a cum problem‘ at The Outline.

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Television commercials for the MTR Airport Express

The Airport Express line commenced operations in July 1998, linking the brand new Hong Kong International Airport airport at Chek Lap Kok to Kowloon and Hong Kong Island.

The MTR advertising campaigns emphasised how easy it was to access the new airport by rail – tugboats pulling the new airport closer to Hong Kong Island.

And an Airport Express train running directly to planes.

Another campaign featured Hong Kong cantopop star 黎明 (Leon Lai).

While this final advert for souvenir MTR model trains had kids working behind the scenes.

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