New link sets off in fits and starts

TEETHING problems on the new Mid-Levels link saw five of the 20 escalators go out of action when it was opened to the public for the first time yesterday.

Mechanical hitches plagued the 800-metre Hillside Escalator Link, which has cost more than $205 million and taken 21/2 years to build.

But escalator engineer Edouard Barroero , who was working on the link during its first day of use, said problems on a new escalator were to be expected.

''A lot of weight on the floor plates at the bottom of each escalator sometimes triggers the safety switch to stop the escalator. So, we have to make adjustments to stop this happening,'' he said.

Engineers worked all morning and early afternoon in an effort to get the link running smoothly, with most of the problems occurring above Shelley Street. Individual escalators had to be cordoned off for adjustment, forcing passengers to use stairways.

But the Transport Department said results from the first day of operation were as expected.

Assistant commissioner for transport Ernest Lee Shu-wing said: ''There have been some minor hitches with five escalators not functioning because of the tight clearance space between the moving parts.'' By mid-afternoon, the problems seemed to have been ironed out and all 23 escalators and travelators were running.

The Transport Department stressed the link was operating on a trial basis so that problems, if any, could be sorted out before an official opening in a few weeks.

Despite the hitches, many were impressed by the new link. Most early commuters, who got on at the top in Conduit Road, agreed it was very convenient.

Robert Piccus, the first person to step on to the link at 6 am, said he planned to use the escalator to get to work on rather than catch a bus or taxi.

''I don't think it is going to relieve traffic congestion, but it will be a good thing for people who live in the Mid-Levels,'' he said.

Blanco Lam, 16, took along his video camera to record the event so he could sing the praises of Hong Kong when he emigrates to South Africa this month.

''It's a historical event and I want to show other people the video to promote Hong Kong and show them how it has been modernised,'' he said.

The escalator is also an unexpected bonus for Orthodox Jews, who worship at the synagogue in Robinson Road.

A rabbinical ruling has established that the escalator uses so little power it does not violate the religious ban on labour during the Sabbath, thereby clearing the way for Jews to use it on the day of rest.

When in full working order, the escalator will take people up the 800 metres from Des Voeux Road Central to Conduit Street in about 20 minutes - for free.

Yesterday, a South China Morning Post team made the trip from the Mid-Levels to Central and back by taxi, bus and the escalator.

Taxis and buses proved faster. A taxi made the descent in six minutes for $11.70 and took seven minutes to go back up again for $12.60.

A public light bus did the Conduit Road/Central/ Conduit Road trip in nine minutes each way for $3.50 a ride.

The ascent on foot for the not-so-fit-but-able takes about the same time as the escalator, while the trek down takes about 16 minutes.

If the Mid-Levels escalator is a success, there are plans for six more links.

Proposals include two escalators to link Queens Road Central with Caine Road via two routes and another to join up Hollywood Road to Moore Street.

Escalators links are also planned between Battery Path and Glenealy, Cotton Tree Drive and Bowen Road, and Caine Road and Ying Fai Terrace. The existing Mid-Levels link may also be extended from Hollywood Road to Chancery Lane.