Hong Kong is not a city known for the thrills and challenges it offers train-spotters. MTR carriages are hardly famed for their diversity. Gleaming steam engines are scarcely to be spied chugging from Kowloon Tong to Lo Wu. And anyone caught loitering on a platform in an anorak would likely be locked up by the perve police as a potential frotteur. For the territory's worker bees, there is a curious reassurance in the MTR's permanence. Above ground, you might be tossed and pounded against the wilder shores of capitalism; descend into the city's bowels, however, and for a few minutes all is stable, all are equal. The gentle rocking, the garish orange panels, dirt-brown floors and slippery steel seats, that reassuring rubric about closing doors and platform gaps. All evince the sort of comfort found in familiarity (even if that familiarity does, during the rush-hour crush, sometimes breed contempt). But in the past week or two a jagged tear has appeared in Hong Kong's commuting fabric - the Mass Transit Railway Corporation is running a trial of redecorated carriages. The changes are not radical; indeed it is their very subtlety that makes them so disconcerting. It is excellent sport to sit in one of the face-lifted cars and watch the expressions of commuters as they stride through the doors. For the first second or two, slack-jawed shock and bewildered displacement vie for supremacy. Then a frantic series of double-takes and noisy 'aieeyahs', preceding a gradual, mistrustful coming to terms with the new surrounds. After two journeys between Choi Hung and Quarry Bay in the shiny new chariots, I cannot decide whether the changes are for better or for worse. The most dramatic new feature is the six bottom-moulded dips in the seats. Certainly this will remove the thigh-busting strain of remaining in one spot when not squashed into place by your neighbours, although the stingy breadth might prove a pain for the more, er, padded posterior. Perhaps the big-bummed can overcome this by straddling the ridge, lobbing one cheek into each hollow (although this tactic is unlikely to sit well with fellow travellers on crowded trains). There are more handholds; cherry red pillars fairly bristle from the roof and walls, taking some of the adventure out of those sudden mid-tunnel stops to 'regulate the train service' (translation: one of our drivers screwed up). Little flashing red lights and green arrows indicate the train's direction and the approaching station, which should prove tremendously helpful for a fortnight or so, then completely useless as the bulbs blow. The floors still manage to look dirty even when they are clean, although the red and blue-flecked faux terazzo certainly makes for a classier shade of grime. And those panels of neon-orange, which made each journey feel a bit like stepping into a Diesel advertisement, have made way for a gentle, muted grey. In an unsurpassed feat of illuminatory engineering, the MTR's boffins have managed to make the light even brighter, which I would have sworn impossible had I not seen it for myself. This is terrific news for commuting cosmeticians, who will now have an even better view as they pick their partner's zits. There is also a funky new emergency handle which you pull rather than push, and more flashing lights which tell you on which side of the train to alight. All of which must be stirring more than a flicker of excitement among those inclined to a spot of train-spotting. Now if only the MTRC would consider some real improvements, like separate carriages for swirling hordes of killer grannies wielding razor elbows . . .