Hong Kong Kowloon-Canton Railway

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East Rail

The Kowloon Canton Railway (KCR) East Rail line was the first railway line in Hong Kong. Cutting thru the entire territory almost down the middle, this line serves the main urban districts of Central Kowloon and connects it with the rapidly growing "new towns" in the New Territories. Single tracked from 1910 to 1982, this line ran from Tsim Sha Tsui (the southernmost tip of Kowloon) to Dai Sha Tau in Guangzhou. Throughout these tumultuous years, this line has seen the shift from steam to diesel, political climate changes, and changes in railway technology. In 1949, service from Tsim Sha Tsui to Guangzhou was cut back, and the line was terminated on the boundary at Lo Wu, the current terminus of East Rail today.

Today, this line isn't just for commuter rail, as it is also connected to the Mainland Chinese railway system via the restored Lo Wu Bridge link across the Shenzhen River that runs along Hong Kong's northern boundary at that point. Intercity trains to Beijing, Guangzhou and Shanghai use this now double-tracked and electrified line, sharing the line with freight trains and the commuter trains. Most electrified commuter trains run from Hung Hom to Lo Wu, while diesel freight trains and high speed intercity trains use the Lo Wu Bridge to China and beyond. But this line description is mostly about the commuter rail, so our focus will be on that.

Now you MUST be wondering, "John, why do they call it 'East' Rail?" Simple, my friends! In 2003, the KCR opened the 'West' Rail line, a line that runs from Nam Cheong Station in Sham Shui Po in Kowloon to the "new town" of Tuen Mun in the Northwest New Territories. I will be doing a report on West Rail at a later date. So please do not be confused!

The commuter train line uses two types of Electric Multiple Units (EMUs). The original trains, built by England's Metro-Cammell, and the new "Millennium Train" built by Japan's Kinki-Sharyo Corp. Recently, the Metro-Cammell (now ALSTOM) EMUs were refurbished and given a new look by Goninan Corp. of Australia, the same company that modernized the subway system's old EMUs (which we won't get into, as that is a totally new case.) In the makeup of the commuter trains, there is somewhat of an anomaly compared to many of modern commuter lines that you all may be familiar with: On East Rail trains; one of the 12 cars in the train is configured to be "First Class". The First Class car is the 4th car on northbound trains, and the 9th on southbound trains, and comes equipped with ergonomically correct plush seats and separate air conditioning system, and is separated from the Regular Class thru frosted windows and locked doors. This is usually the quietest car of the train, as many businessmen coming back from Shenzhen take this silence to catch some rest or get some peace and quiet from the day-trippers in Regular Class.

Be warned, however, if you do most of your KCRC East Rail travel on First Class, I must tell you that a double fare is charged. Say a trip from Mong Kok to Sha Tin is HKD $5.50 (about USD $0.70), it will be HKD $11 (about USD $1.40) on First Class. Separate tickets must be purchased for First Class at station ticket counters or machines, or if you use the Octopus Card (Hong Kong's miracle refillable all-transport access smartcard), you must "validate" your Octopus at a "Validator" on the platform near the marked stopping point for the First Class car.

Also, if you plan on railfanning the ENTIRE line, forget it. You (legally) can't. Why? Lo Wu station is in a secure area as the territory's government, since 1949, has placed a second, internal boundary as a line of defence. This area (and that is the place where the station is located) is only accessible through special permits, and ONLY Hong Kong citizens are allowed to obtain those permits. It's cruel, but them's the breaks. The station itself you can access, but you HAVE to be crossing the border to Shenzhen, and be holding the correct documents to go there. Going there for no reason can net you a hefty fine, as the cops and KCRC conductors there does and will not accept "I'm railfanning the East Rail" as an excuse. But that is IF you get busted! Last time I was there, no cops or conductors were around to stop you from riding to Lo Wu. Please note that if you try this, I absolve all responsibility for whatever happens to you. So don't come crying to me that you were fined and got a tongue lashing, because I warned you.

Now, I think that's all the basics you need to know. Station and on-train information in both Chinese and English will explain anything else I may have missed here, and all KCRC staff are fluent in either English, Cantonese, Mandarin or any combination of those three, and all PA announcement are made in all three languages. So whatever you do, enjoy the ride! Oh yeah, did I forget to mention that unlike many North American commuter rail and subway system, all trains in Hong Kong run on the left track instead of the right? Please keep that in mind!

And now, without further ado, I bring you...the line description. Please note that this line description is made for a northbound trip!

The trip begins at the new East Tsim Sha Tsui station. Opened in October of 2004, ETST is a totally underground station with an island platform under Salisbury Road in the middle of the busy Tsim Sha Tsui tourist district. Before 1975, trains terminated at a station about half a kilometre away at the Clock Tower near the Star Ferry (the clock tower is a relic of the old railway station). Now, in 2004, the KCRC has returned in a new form. This is the only station on East Rail with platform screen doors (PSDs), which are similiar to the ones in Singapore. This station also connects to Tsim Sha Tsui station on the subway system, which allows for easier connections to the island, and relieves the congestion at Kowloon Tong. Later, this station will become a part of the West Rail system when it is extended to Hung Hom in 2009.

Next up is Hung Hom, the terminus until October 2004. Opened in 1975, this station replaced a large open-air station 1 km south of the terminus at Tsim Sha Tsui. This station, located at the portal of the vehicular Cross-Harbour Tunnel, is also the terminus for intercity trains to many parts of Mainland China. This station has two concourses: A shared commuter/intercity concourse sitting on top, and a mid-level commuter train-only concourse. On the platform level, Tracks 1-4 serve commuters, while 5-7 are for intercities.

Leaving the station, the many tracks begin to merge into two. To the right, tracks from the Hung Hom Freight Terminus can be seen merging into the mainline. The mainline soon ducks into the Princess Margaret Road Tunnel, and emerges onto a right of way next to a residential district. Noise shelters cover most of the right of way, until the train enters under a new condo development over Mong Kok station. This station is built on a sharp curve, so small, stationary rubber gap fillers have been installed at door positions, and have flashing violet lights installed on them.

Past Mong Kok, the scenery changes from residential high-rises and bustling shopping districts to smaller developments, Buddhist temples, international schools, kindergartens, as the train arrives at Kowloon Tong. This is the place where you can transfer to the subway system's Kwun Tong Line to travel towards other parts of Hong Kong.

Once out of Kowloon Tong, the train now enters the south portal of the Beacon Hill Tunnel under Lion's Rock. On emergence from the north portal, the train will finally arrive in the Sha Tin district (the Hong Kong equvalent of a New York borough), and pull into the New Territories' first stop, Tai Wai. This station is currently under reconstruction, to accommodate the new Ma On Shan Line that will have its southern terminus there.

The train continues to roll north, along an exclusive ROW adjacent to the Tai Po Highway. Soon, we arrive at Sha Tin. This station is four-tracked, with two island platforms. Tracks 1 and 2 are northbound tracks, while 3 and 4 serve trains heading southbound. Tracks 1 and 4 are seldom used, as 2 and 3 are usually the mainline tracks. Only during emergencies or different procedures will trains use the side tracks at Sha Tin.

Continuing northward, the line soon branches off into many tracks. These branches lead into the Ho Tung Lau depot, East Rail's main storage and maintenance facility. Back to the main line, the train will finally arrive at Fo Tan. This three-tracked station has the two main lines running on the side, with the middle track used for trains that once terminated here. Service from Hung Hom to Fo Tan has just recently been cut, and when I went to inquire, I got no clear answers from the staff. Nevertheless, this station is located next to the Ho Tung Lau depot, and is also the station where you can find the KCRC's headquarters.

The farthest two tracks that branch off to the right of the main line do not lead into Ho Tung Lau depot, but leads into Racecourse. This station is only served on race days at the Hong Kong Jockey Club's Sha Tin Racecourse. All other times, trains remain on the mainline and stop at Fo Tan instead.

Meanwhile, the mainline leaves Fo Tan, and runs adjacent to the depot until it meets back up with the northern approach to Racecourse and the northern exit to the depot. Once past the depot, the train will soon reach its most scenic part: A breathtaking view of Tolo Harbour greets you to the right of the train. But alas, sound barriers are in the process of being installed along the Tai Po Highway (which is still running beside the railway ROW albeit with a distance and at a lower level than the ROW), which may block off the view, I am not sure.

When the view disappears behind some hills, the train will be arriving at University station. This station is the stop that serves the Chinese University of Hong Kong, one of the territory's higher educational institutions. Like Mong Kok, this station is built on a curve, albeit University curves slightly sharper than Mong Kok. Be careful of the gap when alighting at this station, the PA will remind you as the train's doors open.

Once clear of the University, the view of Tolo Harbour can be seen for a short distance before the train ducks into the twin-tube Tolo Harbour Tunnel. This tunnel is very short, so you could blink and the train will be through it. After a bit more traveling, the sight of high-rises will return, hailing the approach to Tai Po Market. Like Fo Tan, this station also has three tracks, but it still maintains service to and from Hung Hom during rush hours, which uses the center track to intake passengers.

Continuing north, the high-rises continue until the train enters the northern part of the Tai Po district, and arrive at Tai Wo. This station was added in the late 1980's, to relieve the congestion at Tai Po Market. The station's concourse sits above the station, and is connected to the residential complexes and shopping malls nearby.

Past Tai Wo, the urbanesque feeling makes way for a more country feeling. Villages begin to line the route, and lush hills are on both sides of the track as the line makes it way through a more rural part of Hong Kong. Nothing much to see along the way, but DO look out for a LARGE red gate that is to the left of the northbound track just before entrance to the next station. This gate is the starting point of the KCRC's Wo Hup Shek line. During its service period (1952-1983), the Wo Hup Shek line connected the main line to the Wo Hup Shek Cemetery, where bodies of war dead and civilian casualties were transported to the cemetery for burial via train. No trace of the Wo Hup Shek line remains today, except for the red gate that marks the beginning point of that line.

Once past the red gate, Fanling is the next stop. In Cantonese it's supposed to be Fun Leng, but don't ask why they anglicized the station name that way, because it's stumped me even to this day.

Past Fanling, the urbanesque feeling returns, as high-rises are now visible as the track now runs on a ROW next to the Fanling (or Fun Leng) Highway. Nothing much to see once again, as the highway is partially covered from the ROW by trees and shrubs. Soon, the train will arrive at the East Rail's pseudo-termini, Sheung Shui. About 15-25% of trains from Hung Hom terminate here during rush hours. This station is also the legal limit of a railfan trip on East Rail, as the next stop lies in the closed boundary area. I've said it once, and I'll say it again: If you don't want trouble, get off here.

Now, for those of you who ARE going to visit Shenzhen and Mainland China and have proper visas (or are just feeling adventurous,) here is the rest of your ride!

North of the station, the Sheung Shui Siding runs parallel to the track for a distance. This is the siding where most trains terminating at Sheung Shui use to prepare for a southbound run or a return to the Ho Tung Lau depot. Others continue farther north, to a place which we will get to in a second. Once past the Siding, the train will then pass by the Sheung Shui Slaughterhouse. With the urbanesque feeling fading into a more natural setting, the slaughterhouse is one of Hong Kong's many entry points for meat. Livestock trains from Mainland China usually go into the slaughterhouse's tracks to unload their live cargo to provide Hong Kong's citizens with their pork ribs and other meat products that will soon make their way to markets across the territory.

Once past the slaughterhouse, the train will enter the Closed Boundary Area. This fenced off area is a Cold War-era second boundary, and it is still tightly guarded today. If you are still on the train and without a Mainland Chinese entry visa, you'd better make up a VERY good excuse for the cops (either that or stay on the train and hope you don't get busted.)

On the homestretch before the last stop, there is a small rail yard that parallels the tracks. This is the Lo Wu Marshalling Yard, the KCR's northern car assignment area. Freight trains from the Mainland usually stop here first, uncouple cars that are going to separate destinations other than the train's final destination (i.e., a train from the Mainland heading to the Ho Man Tin Freight Terminal might drop some cars off at Lo Wu yard that are bound for, say...the Sheung Shui Slaughterhouse.) This yard is also the turning place for most Sheung Shui-terminating trains (beside the Siding), or is the place for layups awaiting extra service from Lo Wu.

After a bit of a ride through very picturesque scenery, almost untouched, the train will arrive at the East Rail's real terminal, Lo Wu. Not much surround the station, as its sole purpose is to serve as a purely rail crossing into Mainland China. (In fact, there is an exit that is located to the right of the passageway heading towards Hong Kong customs. Security guards block the way thru this very obscure exit, which allows residents of the tiny Lo Wu village to access the station. Special permits are necessary in order to use that exit.) This station has three platforms, two on the line toward the Lo Wu Bridge, and one side track. The platform that is on the far side (the northbound track platform) across from the second (southbound) track is currently not in use, leaving the southbound track and the side track in use to be the launch points for the southbound trains. This is only true for now, pending the completion of a reconfiguration of the station in 2004 which will add a new platform to the other side of the side track, and a total reconfiguration of the station layout to better serve the tsunami that is the passenger flow at this crowded border crossing point.

Once into the station, you follow the crowd and walk toward the Hong Kong customs area. Once clear, you're on you way towards Shenzhen Congratulations! You have finished the trip on the KCRC East Rail, which should take a paltry 34 minutes from Hung Hom to Lo Wu pending no hold-ups or delays.

West Rail

The Hong Kong government, recognizing a need for mass transit to service the Northwestern part of the New Territories, contracted the KCRC in 1998 to construct a commuter train line from Kowloon to Tuen Mun, via the Northwestern end of Kowloon and the new towns of Yuen Long and Tin Shui Wai. Completed in 2003, the West Rail is now a reality. While new extensions are still in the works (including a southern loop through the Tsim Sha Tsui district to Hung Hom to connect with East Rail in 2009), the system currently is doing what the government has hoped it would do: bringing commuters from far-flung suburbs of Northwestern New Territories (NWNT) into the city, faster and better.

The 2003 trip begins at Nam Cheong, a station that is run jointly between KCRC and the MTRC, the subway system. The West Rail section of the station has two tracks and two side platforms, with a turnback track to the south of the station. Trains are turned around there, and the stretch will become part of the next extension to Hung Hom station to be completed in 2009. The theme colour of this station is a lemony yellow, which both the KCRC and MTRC platforms share. The MTR connection here is with the Tung Chung Line, which goes between the island and Lantau. Connections to the Airport Express can be made at Tsing Yi station, a few stations up the MTR towards Lantau.

Leaving Nam Cheong, the train heads northwest and arrives at Mei Foo. With a theme colour of white, this station has two side platforms, and lies under Lai Chi Kok Park, and connects with Mei Foo station on the subway system's Tsuen Wan Line, which goes between Tsuen Wan and the city via the heart of Kowloon.

Next up, the train goes through the Ching Kwai Tunnels, which brings it into the last station in the city, Tsuen Wan West. With a red theme, this station on the west side of Tsuen Wan district, near the water and halfway across town from the subway's Tsuen Wan terminal station. This station consists of two side platforms, with a hidden siding track behind the walls of the northbound platform. This siding is most likely a bypass tunnel that will allow freight trains to one day go from the Port (in Kwai Chung) to cross the border at Lo Wu or vice versa via the Northern Link, which will be explained later.

Northwest of Tsuen Wan West, the train heads into the long Tai Lam Tunnel, which is the longest transportation tunnel in the entire territory. When the train emerges into the New Territories, it now runs on grade in the daylight. The first view in the light is the Pat Heung yard, which is the maintance and storage centre for the West Rail system. Past the yard, the train arrives at Kam Sheung Road station, which is an elevated island platform, with red as the theme colour. The headquarters for West Rail is a short walk from the station, and a lot of buses that go to the restricted area near the border depart from here.

Leaving Kam Sheung Road, the tracks split and makes room for a future viaduct that heads to the northeast. This is the line that will one day bring the West Rail to Lok Ma Chau, another popular border crossing point, and the line will also one day bring freight trains down from the Lo Wu rail crossing, through this northern link, down the West Rail line, and to the Ports via a special freight line that is still proposed.

Meanwhile, the route turns to the northwest over a tall viaduct over a recreated marshland, and heads into the first new town, Yuen Long. This is the first contact point between the West Rail and the Northwest LRT system, which is a streetcar system built in 1989 that runs around Tuen Mun, Yuen Long and Tin Shui Wai. Yuen Long station is an island platform, with the LRT terminal at the bottom level. The terminating LRT routes at Yuen Long are: 610, 614, 615 (all to Tuen Mun Ferry Pier) and 761 (to Tin Wing).

Next up is Long Ping. This station, which sits partially over a drainage canal, serves the old centre of Yuen Long. The rest of the platforms along the route are all island platforms.

Making a slight southwestern turn after Long Ping, the train passes through some half-urban half-rural land, and the next stop it arrives at is Tin Shui Wai. This station is also above a LRT terminal, which serves many of the residential developments nearby. Tin Shui Wai is what you might call a bedroom suburb: most people live here, but work in other places in Hong Kong. LRTs that stop here are: 705 (Tin Shui Wai Loop Counterclockwise), 706 (Tin Shui Wai Loop Clockwise) and 751 (Tin Yat-Yau Oi).

Entering the district of Tuen Mun, the train follows the main LRT trunk line between Yuen Long and Tuen Mun, and arrives at the northern edge of the district, Siu Hong. This station, with an indigo theme colour and sitting on the top of the Tuen Mun Nullah, is another station that serves the residential developments nearby. A triangular shaped LRT station is next to the station connected by a covered walkway. The LRT routes 614, 615 (Yuen Long-Tuen Mun Ferry Pier, 614P (614 turnshort trains), 615P (615 turnshort trains), 751 (Tin Yat-Yau Oi) and 505 (to Sam Shing) make stops or terminates here.

Finally, continuing the travel down the viaduct over the nullah, the train arrives at the northern terminal of the line, Tuen Mun. With three tracks (one used for layups with no signs of a platform serving it), this is the end of the route, and serves the centre of the district. LRT routes 505 (Siu Hong-Sam Shing, 507 (Tin King-Ferry Pier), and 751 (Tin Yat-Yau Oi) makes stops at this station.

The trip, according to the KCR's website, should take about 34 minutes from Nam Cheong to Tuen Mun. Compared to some other modes, like the bus which takes about 40-50 minutes to cover the same distance via road, it's a lot faster if not more expensive way to get from the city to suburb.

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