- This article is about MTR as a metro system. For MTR as a Corporation, see MTR Corporation Limited.
- For other meanings of the TLA "MTR", see MTR (disambiguation).
MTR or Mass Transit Railway (地鐵; originally, 地下鐵路; or 地下鐵) is the metro system of Hong Kong. First opened for service in 1979, the network has since expanded to encompass six metro lines and 50 stations, with further expansions planned. It is an affordable mode of public transport in Hong Kong, with an average of 2.45 million journeys recorded each day. The system has proven so popular because of its efficiency and affordability. For example, a taxi ride from Tsing Yi to Causeway Bay costs around HK$200, while the same trip on the MTR costs HK$11.8, and only HK$5.7 on concessionary fare.
Construction of the MTR was prompted by a government-commissioned study released in 1967. The government of Hong Kong commissioned the study in the 1960s to find solutions to the growing traffic problem caused by expansion of the colony's economy. Construction started soon after release of the study, and the first line was opened in 1979. The MTR was immediately popular with the residents of Hong Kong, and as a result subsequent lines have been built to cover more territory. There are continuing debates as to how and where to expand the MTR network. Several proposals have been put forward, but none have been agreed upon. The two most viable projects, the West Island Line and South Island Line, are still many years from completion.
In 2000, the government-owned MTR Corporation was partially privatised and renamed the MTR Corporation Limited. MTR Corporation has always been reliant on developing properties next to railway stations for its profits (although the rail lines are profitable themselves); many recently built stations are incorporated into large housing estates or shopping complexes. Examples of this type of construction can be seen at Tsing Yi station, which is built next to the Maritime Square shopping centre, and directly underneath the Tierra Verde housing estate.
History of the MTR
During the 1960s, the government of Hong Kong saw a need to accommodate increasing road traffic predicted for the future as Hong Kong's economy continued to grow strongly. British transport consultants Freeman, Fox, Wilbur Smith & Associates were appointed to study the transport system of Hong Kong. The consultants released the Hong Kong Mass Transport Study in September 1967, which proposed the construction of an underground mass transit system in Hong Kong.
In 1970, an underground network with four lines was laid out and planned as part of the British consultants' new report, Hong Kong Mass Transit: Further Studies. The four lines were to be the Kwun Tong Line, Tsuen Wan Line, Island Line, and East Kowloon Line. However, the lines that were eventually constructed were somewhat different compared with the lines that were originally proposed by the "Hong Kong Mass Transport Study". (A map showing the original lines to be constructed can be found at this link).
In 1972, the Hong Kong government authorised construction of the Initial System, a 20 kilometres system that roughly translates to the Kwun Tong Line today (except the line now extends to Yau Tong). Negotiations with four major construction consortiums started in 1973. The government's intention was to tender the entire project, based on the British design, as a single tender at a fixed price. A consortium from Japan signed an agreement to construct the system in early 1974, but in December of the same year it pulled out from the agreement.
Modified Initial System
Several weeks later, in early 1975, a government agency known as the Mass Transport Provisional Authority was established to take charge of the project. It announced that the Initial System would be slightly reduced to 15.6 kilometres, and renamed it the Modified Initial System. Plans for a single contract were also abandoned in favour of 25 engineering contracts and 10 electrical and mechanical contracts.
In addition, the government-owned Hong Kong Mass Transit Railway Corporation (MTRC) was established to replace the Mass Transport Provisional Authority. (This was the company succeeded by the MTR Corporation Limited on 30 June 2000)
Construction of the Modified Initial System commenced in November 1975. After almost four years, the northern section was completed on 30 September 1979. On 1 October 1979, the northern section was opened, with trains running from Shek Kip Mei to Kwun Tong. The route from Tsim Sha Tsui to Shek Kip Mei was opened in December of the same year.
In 1980, the first harbour crossing was made by an MTR train as the Kwun Tong Line was extended even further to Chater station, now known as Central station. To deal with increasing patronage, trains were also extended to six cars.
Tsuen Wan Line
The government approved construction of the Tsuen Wan Line in 1977, and works commenced in November 1978. The project added a 10.5 kilometres (6.5 miles) section to the MTR system, from Prince Edward to Tsuen Wan. The line started service on May 10, 1982. Total cost of construction (not adjusted for inflation) was HK$4.1 billion.
When service of this line started, the section of the Kwun Tong Line from Chater to Argyle, present-day Mong Kok station, was transferred to the Tsuen Wan Line. Thus, Waterloo (Yau Ma Tei station) became the terminus of the Kwun Tong Line, and both Argyle and Prince Edward stations became interchange stations. This change was made because system planners expected traffic of the Tsuen Wan Line would exceed that of the Kwun Tong Line. This forecast was initially correct ; however, since the launch of the Tung Chung Line in 1998, much of the traffic northwest of Lai King towards Hong Kong Island has been diverted to the newer line.
Although land acquisitions were made for a station at Tsuen Wan West, the station was never built. The planned site is now partially occupied by the KCR West Rail, which bears a Tsuen Wan West station much closer to the coast.
Government approvals were granted for construction of the Island Line in December, 1980. Construction commenced in October, 1981. On 31 May, 1985 the Island Line was opened with service between Admiralty and Chai Wan stations. Both Admiralty and Central stations became interchange stations with the Tsuen Wan Line. Furthermore, each train was extended to eight cars.
On 23 May, 1986, service reached Sheung Wan station. Construction for this station was delayed for one year as government offices which sat on top of the station had to be removed to a new location before construction could start.
Eastern Harbour Tunnel extension
In 1984, the government approved the construction of the Eastern Harbour Tunnel, a tunnel to be used by cars and MTR trains. The Kwun Tong Line was extended across the harbour to Quarry Bay, which became an interchange station for the Kwun Tong Line and the Island Line. The extension was launched on 5 August, 1989. An intermediate station, Lam Tin, started operations on 1 October, 1989.
Airport Express and Tung Chung Line
Decision was made in October 1989 to construct a new international airport at Chek Lap Kok on Lantau Island to replace the overcrowded Kai Tak International Airport. The government invited the MTR to build a train line, then known as the Lantau Airport Railway, to the airport. But construction did not begin until the Chinese and British governments settled their financial and land disagreements in November 1994.
In the end, the new line was included in the financing plans of the new Hong Kong International Airport as the airport was not considered viable without direct public transport links. Construction costs were also shared by the MTR which was granted many large-scale developments in the construction plans for the new stations.
The Lantau Airport Railway turned into two MTR lines, the Tung Chung Line and the Airport Express. The Airport Express opened for service on 6 July 1998 along with the new Hong Kong International Airport. The Tung Chung Line was officially opened on 21 June 1998 by Hong Kong Chief Executive Tung Chee Hwa, and service commenced the next day.
Quarry Bay Congestion Relief Works
The Quarry Bay Congestion Relief Works involved extending the Hong Kong Island end of the Kwun Tong Line from Quarry Bay to North Point via a 4.2 kilometres tunnel. The project was initiated due to overcrowding at Quarry Bay and persistent passenger complaints about the 5-minute walk from the Island Line station to the Kwun Tong Line station. Construction began in September 1997 and was completed in September 2001 at a cost of HK$3.0 billion.
Tseung Kwun O Line
Construction of the Tseung Kwan O Line was approved on 18 August 1998 to serve new housing developments. Construction began on 24 April 1999 and the line officially opened in 2002. It took over the train tracks running through the Eastern Harbour Tunnel from the Kwun Tong Line, and ran from Po Lam to North Point. Subsequently, the Kwun Tong Line was diverted to Tiu Keng Leng station on the new line. Cost of the new construction was partially paid for by the Government of Hong Kong, as well as private developers which linked construction of the Tsueng Kwan O Line to new real estate and commercial developments, as previously under-developed areas were opened up for development with the increase in transportation options.
Privatisation of MTR
- Main article: MTR Corporation Limited
On 5 October 2000, the MTR became Hong Kong's first privatisation, which marked the start of the Hong Kong government's planned initiative to wind down its interests in various public utilities. Prior to its listing on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, the MTR was wholly owned by the Hong Kong Government. The offering involved the sale of around one billion shares, and the MTR now has the largest shareholder base of any company listed in Hong Kong.
At the time of the initial public offering, the MTR was operating with a budget surplus of HK$360 million, which had increased from a surplus of HK$278 million in 1997. However, after the IPO profits decreased as the MTR lost much of its subsidies from the government, dropping to HK$139 million. Yet, this trend seems to have reversed, as profits grew more than 10 fold in the fourth quarter of 2004, making the MTR one of the few profitable public transport systems in the world.
Safety on the MTR
- Also see: Platform Screen Doors on HK MTR
Various campaigns and activities are taken to help ensure that the MTR is a safe system to travel on. Poster campaigns displaying information on topics such as escalator safety are a common sight in all MTR stations, and announcements are made regularly as safety reminders to travelling passengers.
Bylaws have been recently introduced to deter potentially dangerous actions on the MTR, such as the ban of flammable goods on the MTR and rushing into trains when the doors are closing. Penalties ranging from fines to imprisonment have been imposed for such offenses. Metal balloons are also banned due to a previous incident on KCR where a metal balloon interfered with the operation of the overhead power lines.
In August 2002, MTR Corporation Limited made the decision to install platform screen doors (PSDs) at all underground stations of the running lines. Tung Chung Line, the Airport Express and Tseung Kwan O Line (except Quarry Bay station) have PSDs installed upon construction. These doors prevent people from falling onto the rails; and have the addtional benefit of separating the stations from the tunnels, hence allowing substantial energy savings on station air-conditioning and tunnel ventilation. Work is still ongoing on a few remaining stations to have these doors installed. The project is expected to complete by year 2006.
Moreover, automatic platform gates have been installed at the soon-opening Sunny Bay and Disneyland Resort station. Their height are half of those PSDs and only prevent people from falling onto the rails.
Station facilities, amenities and services
With the high level of daily passenger traffic, facilities of MTR stations are built with durability and accessibility in mind. The elevators and escalators in stations are heavy duty, installed by Otis Elevator Company/Fujitec and Constructions Industrielles de la Mediterranee /Otis Elevator Company respectively.
The MTR system in general is disabled-friendly — the trains have dedicated wheelchair space, the stations have special floor tiles to guide the blind safely on the platforms, and there are extra wide entry/exit gates for wheelchairs to pass through.
Unlike many other metro systems around the world, "main line" MTR stations do not have toilet facilities. Only stations on the Airport Express line have access to toilet facilities.
Shops and other services
Until recently, MTR stations only had branches of the Hang Seng Bank and Maxim's Cakes stores (owned by Jardine Matheson). Since the privatisation of the MTR, however, numerous shops have been added to certain stations, turning them into miniature shopping centres. Services available at most stations include:
Apart from retailers, there are also dentists and medical clinics, drycleaners , and florists along the Tseung Kwan O line. Standard services include payphones, vending machines (Coca-Cola only), and self-service photo-booths.
- Main article: Metropolis Daily
As of 2005, three free newspapers are given away inside MTR stations: the Metropolis Daily, published by Metro International; the entertainment magazine Hui Kai Guide; and the recruitment newspaper Jiu Jik, published by South China Morning Post.
Fares & tickets
As of January 2005, there are two different fare classes on the MTR: Adult and concessionary. Only children below the age of 12, senior citizens 65 years or older, or full-time Hong Kong students between the ages of 12 and 25 qualify for the concessionary rate. Children below the age of 3 travel free.
Unlike some metro systems, where a flat fare is paid no matter the distance travelled, there is an additional surcharge for every station between the initial station and destination station. Adult fares range from HK$4 to $26. Concessionary fares are usually half the adult fare, and range from HK$3 to $13.
Single journey ticket
The magnetic fare card system is used for single journey tickets. These tickets are pre-paid for between pre-determined stations, and are good for only one trip. There are no return tickets, except on the Airport Express.
- Main article: Octopus card
The Octopus card is a rechargeable contactless smart card used in an electronic payment system in Hong Kong. It was launched in September 1997 for use on both the MTR and the KCR and now is the most widely used electronic cash system for transactions in Hong Kong.
The Octopus card uses radio frequency identification (RFID) technology so that users need only hold the card in close proximity of the reader. Physical contact is not required. The Octopus card was so popular that many cities such as Singapore, London, and Taipei have adopted the idea, launching their own version of smart cards, respectively named EZ-link, Oyster card, and EasyCard.
Except for the Airport Express, MTR fares are slightly cheaper when using an Octopus card compared to using single journey tickets. For example, the cost of the 3-minute journey from Admiralty to Tsim Sha Tsui is (as of 2005) HK$7.9 using the Octopus, compared with HK$9.0 for a single-journey ticket.
Two types of tourist passes are available: one allows unlimited rides for a single day (at HK$50), while the other allows three days of unlimited rides on the MTR, with a stored value of HK$20, refundable deposit of HK$50 and choice of either a single (HK$220) or return (HK$300) trip on the Airport Express.
Tourists are required to produce proof of tourist status (e.g., passports or entry permits for Mainland travellers) when purchasing the pass, and whenever requested by a ticket inspector during spot-checks.
Airport Express fares
Fares for the Airport Express are substantially different from main line fares. Apart from single tickets, same-day return tickets (same price as a single), and one-month return tickets are also available. Discounts are avaliable for tickets bought as a Group for travel.
As of January 2005, a trip on the Airport Express from Hong Kong station to the Airport station costs HK$100, $50 concessionary rate. The rate for a one-month return ticket is HK$180.
MTR rolling stock
- Main Article: Trains on the MTR
Four variations of rolling stock operate on the MTR on 1.5kV overhead electrification. All trains are electric multiple units (EMUs), equipped with ATC and ATP, operating on 1432mm rail gauge.
Except for the rolling stock of the Airport Express, all trains are designed with features to cope with high density passenger traffic on stopping services. Examples are the latitudinal seating arrangement, additional ventilation fans and 5 doors on each side per car.
Airport Express and Tung Chung Line use trains that are dedicated specifically to their respective lines. These two variations are built jointly by Adtranz (now Bombardier Transportations) and Construcciones y Auxiliar de Ferrocarriles.
The other lines are operated using a mixture of the other two variations, known as the "M-Train" and the "K-Stock". The "M-Stock" (or CM-Stock") of "M-Train" are the oldest trains on the MTR, built originally by Metro Cammell and refurbished by United Goninan . It is the only variation that uses sliding doors, as opposed to others which use plug-doors. The "K-Stock" are built jointly by Mitsubishi and ROTEM.
Depots are located at Kowloon Bay (for Kwun Tong Line), Tsuen Wan (for Tsuen Wan Line), Heng Fa Chuen (for Island Line), and Dream City (for Tseung Kwan O Line). Airport Express and Tung Chung Line trains are serviced at Siu Ho Wan near Sunny Bay.
Disneyland Resort Line
As of 2005, construction is underway for the Disneyland Resort Line, previously known as Penny’s Bay Rail Link. Construction will be finished before 1 July 2005. Service is expected to commence in September 2005.
The Hong Kong Disneyland is scheduled to open on 12 September 2005.
This 3.5 kilometre single-track railway is an extension of the Tung Chung Line. It will run between the new Sunny Bay station to Hong Kong Disneyland, where a new station designed to have a resort ambiance will be built. According to MTR Corporation Limited, the line will initially operate four–car trains (each car accomodating up to 180 passengers) running every four to ten minutes. Provisions have been made to make future expansion to use eight-car trains possible. In addition, these carriages will be converted from the existing rolling stock to suit the recreational and adventurous nature of the 3.5 minute journey.
West Island Line and South Island Line
- Main Article: West Island Line and South Island Line
On 21 January 2003, the Executive Council of Hong Kong granted MTR Corporation Limited permission to proceed with further planning on two proposed lines: West Island Line and South Island Line. These new lines are suggested in the Second Railway Development Study (RDS-2) to provide direct linkage between the populated areas of Wah Fu and Ap Lei Chau in Southern District, and the CBD of Hong Kong.
The first proposal was submitted by MTR Corporation Limited on May 2002, but had some major drawbacks. After permission was given, a feasibility study was then conducted in mid-2003 to determine the cost-effectiveness of the lines, the external benefits and impact on other modes of transport. The company derived a modified proposal in November 2003 to address the earlier drawbacks, and proposed three alignment options for the South Island Line.
A third revised scheme was handed in end-March 2004, which included an extension plan on the Island Line. The plan was turned down by the government to favour the construction of highways. MTR gave a fourth try in February 2004, in which the legislative counsellors support the building of West Island Line.
- Freeman, Fox, Wilbur Smith & Associates (1967). Hong Kong Mass Transport Study.
- Freeman, Fox, Wilbur Smith & Associates (1970). Hong Kong Mass Transport Further Study.
- López, M.J.J. (1996). Crime Prevention Guidelines for the Construction & Management of Metro Systems. Den Haag: RCM-advies, pg. 32-35.
MTR property management