Fast action required at Hong Kong’s express rail link
With disappointing passenger numbers so far and logistical problems, the cross-border high-speed service is in need of improvement and closer ties with the travel industry
That the cross-border high-speed railway continues to make headlines for the wrong reasons is unsurprising. After all, it is not unusual for mega infrastructure projects to experience some teething problems upon commencement. That said, it appears there are bigger hurdles to overcome, in particular the underuse of services and logistical problems with ticketing. Better coordination and promotion are needed to fully maximise the potential of the HK$84.4 billion rail link.
It can be argued that passenger numbers in the first few days of operation do not necessarily make a whole year of shortfall, but there is no guarantee that usage will surge as time goes by. The figures dropped from 75,517 on the first day to 46,463 the following day, shrinking further to 37,820 on Tuesday, which is 53 per cent short of the official daily estimate of 80,100.
According to the Mass Transit Railway Corporation, which operates the express rail, a total of 280,000 tickets have been sold for the next 30 days. It is true that passengers may only buy tickets a few days in advance or on the day but, with just 9,300 tickets sold each day so far, there is still a long way to go before making up the numbers.
Problems such as long queues at ticket counters and restrictions on luggage size may have put off passengers initially, but the convenience of the railway will be significantly undermined if the problems are not fixed. Logistical issues should have been foreseen and addressed well before the carpet was rolled out last Sunday. The negative reports have inevitably marred the reputation of the MTR Corp as a world-class railway operator.
The passenger forecast had already been revised down by more than 20 per cent to 80,100 a day, and only time will tell whether the adjustment was still over-optimistic. The upcoming “golden week” holidays on the mainland will be a timely test of the forecast as well as our logistics and capacity. At least 10 high-speed rail tours are said to be arriving, though they are just a fraction of inbound tours due from the mainland during the period. To maximise benefits of the rail link, the authorities need to improve the logistics and work closer with the travel industry to roll out more tourism products in the long run.