Hong Kong MTR

Explainer: the pros and cons of different solutions to Hong Kong’s express rail checkpoint issue

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 26 July, 2017, 7:30am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 26 July, 2017, 4:28pm

Several key ideas have been floated on the immigration and customs checkpoint arrangements for the high-speed rail link from Hong Kong to Shenzhen and Guangzhou. The mainland and Hong Kong governments have decided to adopt the Shenzhen Bay model, in which customs and immigration facilities for both authorities will be housed under the same roof. Here are details of the various options:

One station, two systems: how joint checkpoint will work for Hong Kong-mainland China high-speed rail line

Shenzhen Bay model

• Based on the joint immigration and customs checkpoint arrangement for Shenzhen Bay Port, as agreed on by Hong Kong and Shenzhen in 2007. Under this model, mainland authorities are allowed to exercise jurisdiction in the designated area leased to the mainland at the West Kowloon terminus.


• Passengers can take the high-speed train directly to different cities on the mainland after clearing immigration and customs at West Kowloon. This can save time and provides maximum convenience to passengers.

• There are already international precedents for similar joint checkpoint arrangements, such as ones between Britain and France and between the United States and Canada.

Why is Hong Kong’s cross-border rail link causing such a fuss?


• Mainland officers will be authorised to enforce mainland laws in a designated area at the West Kowloon terminus.

• Some say this model could require the National People’s Congress Standing Committee to make a declaration that such an arrangement would not be against the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s mini-constitution.

• Whether Hong Kong can lease a piece of its land to another jurisdiction, including the mainland, is in question.

• Some actions that are allowed under Hong Kong law are illegal under mainland law, like “provoking quarrels and making trouble”.

On-board inspection

• Before travellers departing for the mainland board their train at the West Kowloon terminus, Hong Kong officers will record their information and send it to the mainland authorities for verification. After the train has crossed the border, mainland officers already on board the train can exercise their jurisdiction and inspect the passengers’ visas.

• Similar arrangements are in use for train services between Finland and Russia. Travel documents are checked as the train is moving.

• Within Europe, train passengers travelling between countries participating in the Schengen Agreement do not need to show their passport at border crossings. Not all European Union countries participate in the Schengen Agreement, for example, Britain and Ireland. And there are countries that are not part of the EU but participate in the Schengen Agreement, like Switzerland and Norway.

• On overnight trips, travellers generally give train attendants their passport and ticket as they board. That way, the staff can take care of the paperwork with conductors and customs officials so travellers can take rest uninterrupted through the night.


• Saves as much time for travellers as the joint checkpoint arrangement does.

• Mainland officers will not exercise their jurisdiction until the train has left Hong Kong, avoiding the issue of cross-border law enforcement by mainland authorities.


• Travel time too short for mainland officers to clear all mainland-bound passengers on shorter-haul trips. A high-speed train from Hong Kong to Futian in Shenzhen will take only 14 minutes; from Futian to Guangzhou will take about 36 minutes. A non-stop train journey from Hong Kong to Guangzhou will last about 48 minutes.

Separate location model

• Travellers will complete customs, immigration and quarantine clearance procedures in a mainland city with such facilities and then continue their journey to their destinations.


• Avoids the issue of cross-border law enforcement by mainland authorities.


• Passengers have to go to a mainland station with immigration, customs and quarantine facilities for clearance.

• Most high-speed train stations on the mainland do not have any established clearance facilities.

• The arrangement could give rise to operational difficulties as passengers departing from Hong Kong and those departing from the mainland have to be separated because passengers on the train have not yet gone through customs and immigration clearance.

All you need to know about the Hong Kong-mainland rail link, co-located checkpoints and law enforcement issues

Separate clearance in Shenzhen

• Travellers disembark in Shenzhen to clear immigration before continuing their trips.


• Avoids the issue of cross-border law enforcement by mainland authorities.


• Passengers will have to take their luggage and get off the train after crossing the border for another inspection.

• Defeats the purpose of using the express rail link, especially for shorter-haul passengers. A ride on a high-speed train from Hong Kong to Shenzhen would take as little as 14 minutes.