Some landmark achievements in Hong Kong’s transport infrastructure made a splash even before the South China Morning Post rolled off the printing presses for the first time, on November 6, 1903. Chief among these would be the Star Ferry, which hoisted anchor and began sailing between Hong Kong Island and Kowloon in 1888, the same year that the Peak Tram began hauling the well-heeled up to more pleasant climes.
And with watershed developments seeming to land on these shores with accelerating speed through the decades, there is simply not enough space on these pages to include them all, so the airports at Kai Tak and Chek Lap Kok (opened in 1925 and 1998, respectively); Ocean Terminal (1966); Lion Rock Tunnel (1967) and many others will have to wait until future Post birthday celebrations. Bon voyage!
Technologically advanced trams elicit wonder, and sneering
Colonial-era commentator downplays historic achievement, scoffs at bystanders
The November 6, 1903 issue of the Post announced that tracks had been laid between Kennedy Town and Shau Kei Wan, adding “it is highly probable that the rickshaw will be forsaken for the tramcar”.
Early Post journalists, eager to report on the coming comforts of home, found the Chinese response to such “civilised” technologies a little too amusing.
“Ah Sam, what ting belong dis? No makee pull, no makee pushee, how fashun can makee run” (pidgin for “What is it? Nothing pushes or pulls it, how does it run?”), began the July 4, 1904 coverage of the first trial run. The article detailed the bewilderment of Chinese spectators who “squatted on the ground after the car had passed and looked at the spark that flew out under the car, trying to solve the mystery”.
The writer also speculated on how difficult it must have been for the Chinese conductors to learn the European names for all the parts of the tram and master “the gentle art of jumping from a moving car”.
The amusement continued with the tram’s first inspection. “The natives at Shau Kei Wan and along the route taken by the car were greatly astonished with this thing that moved along apparently of its own accord,” reported the Post on July 21, 1904.
Just two days later the joke was wearing thin when, after a trial run for the press, the Post reported: “Naturally, our aristocratic suburban neighbours in the Shaukiwan vicinity made much to do about the appearance of these yellow toast racks that ran along without being pushed or pulled.”
Hong Kong’s original taxicabs the same as in London
Steep terrain proves too much of a challenge for the Citroen Landaulette automobiles
On Monday, January 8, 1923, the Post acknowledged it had been beaten to the scoop, reporting: “The Hongkong Telegraph was able to announce on Saturday the details of a scheme for the establishment of a service for taxi-cars, and the proposal has been one of the principal topics of conversation over the weekend. […] it is hoped to have 30 cars on the streets before June […] They will not be congregated in the centre of the city but will have their stands wherever there is likely to be a call for them, competing with trams, rickshaws and chairs in convenience and charge.
“Hongkong’s taxis are to be identical with those in London, meters and all […] They will be able to carry four people, and the fares will be based on ‘full cars’, – i.e. it will be as cheap for four to ride as for one. The fare will be 40 cents a mile.”
The formation of the Hongkong and Kowloon Taxi-cab Co was reported in the Post on April 8. The story ran that “Citroen Landaulette taxis of 11.4 horse-power, capable of a speed of 35 miles an hour, will be used. They will be fitted with engines and chassis similar to those used recently in motoring across the Sahara desert, a feat which is attributed to their capacity for hard work.”
On May 7, the newspaper reported: “The company has received permission from the Government for the taxis to ply for hire in the streets and to use certain stands while waiting for fares, in the same way as rickshaws and chairs now operate.”
An advert in the classified section of the Post on June 8 read: “200 Young Men wanted to learn to drive TAXI-CABS. Salary $30.00 per month (when qualified).”
Masters of the Sahara they might have been, but the taxis must have struggled with Hong Kong Island’s vertiginous terrain. It was reported on January 12, 1924, that a new batch had been ordered that were “specially constructed for the Hongkong side, being geared for the hills, an entire new back axle having been fitted”.
Hong Kong’s first double-decker buses arrive … but 12 years late
Second world war and Japanese occupation delay fix to territory’s traffic problem
“The Kowloon Motor Bus Company [KMB] are expecting delivery shortly of a double-decker motor bus from England with which they will make experimental runs on the Peninsula,” ran a story in the Post on December 1, 1937.
The exercise in Kowloon was proposed in the face of rising traffic, but by the start of 1939, the vehicle had not materialised. On February 2 of that year, the Post reported: “Two Kowloon motor buses, on which wooden super structures have been built to represent the height of the proposed double-decker buses, will shortly travel along Nathan Road […] Upon the result of this experiment lies the fate of the highway’s famous trees.”
Two years later, there were still no double deckers. “Owing to the cancellation of export permits from Great Britain, Hongkong will not have any double-decker buses until after the European War,” the Post said on June 18, 1941.
It was not until April 11, 1946, that the Post picked up the story again. “There is no possibility of new buses arriving in Hongkong until the early part of next year […] During the occupation the entire fleet of [single-decker] buses, together with equipment, machinery, plant and spare parts were confiscated by the Japanese.”
More than a decade after it was first discussed, KMB conducted its experiment.
“A trial run on the routes to be used was recently made by what might be described as a skeleton double-decker bus […] Using the chassis of a standard pattern bus, the Kowloon Motor Bus Company had built on it a framework of bamboo to represent the dimensions of the proposed new bus,” the Post reported on April 15, 1948. “It will only be necessary to remove one or two tree branches on the routes concerned.”
On April 17, 1949, the nascent fleet was on the road. “Four new double-decker buses of the Kowloon Motor Bus Company were put into service in the Star Ferry and Kowloon City run yesterday,” ran a Post story the next day.
Cross-harbour tunnel worker first to drive north under Victoria Harbour
More than 700 vehicles speed through the engineering marvel within 15 minutes of opening
“At 11.39 last night the first of a long procession of vehicles drove through the cross-harbour tunnel from the Kowloon end – six minutes before the tunnel was officially opened to Hongkong’s motoring public,” reported the Post on August 4, 1972, under the headline “Tunnel opens”.
“Their appearance three minutes later at the Hongkong end of the tunnel made ‘anxious’ Hongkong drivers lose their cool. They started reving [sic] their engines, creating a tremendous din. The tunnel guards eventually allowed them to drive through the tunnel three minutes earlier than the official opening time – 11.45pm.
“Within the first 15 minutes of the tunnel’s opening over 700 vehicles […] had driven through it.
“The first driver from Hongkong to use the tunnel was Mr M. McMillan, a construction superintendent with the tunnel company.
“I wanted to feel how it is like to drive through the tunnel which I helped to build,” were his first words to reporters.
“A mini-bus driver who crossed to Kowloon said he just wanted ‘to feel how it is driving under the sea’,” the report continued.
The tunnel was a long time coming. In an April 4, 1969 story, under the headline, “At last, after 66 years a tunnel for Hongkong”, the Post’s business editor wrote: “The cross-harbour tunnel has at last been taken out of the realm of speculation. Last night it was announced that agreement in principle had been given to a loan and that it is only a matter of time now before the final contracts are signed and work begins.”
The first mention of a cross-harbour tunnel in the pages of the Post was made by reader L. Koon, in letters to the editor, on November 29, 1920. “Sir–In your publication of today’s date ‘Vox Populi’ advocates the bridging of the harbour … such a gigantic structure would be a hindrance to navigation and a source of expense when you consider the element of typhoons […] If a quick, cheap and easy crossing of the harbour is really required, a tunnel would be more practicable.”
Eighteen years in the making, Hong Kong gets first MTR subway line
Slow start to underground railway that, recent hiccups aside, is admired the world over
“Underground Railway System Suggested as Answer to Traffic Problems”, ran a Post headline on January 24, 1961. Speaking at a Kowloon Round Table meeting, a Kenneth A. Watson said roads had reached “saturation points”, and putting on more buses and trams would do little to alleviate the situation.
In February 1966, as public pressure grew, the government commissioned a study to anticipate Hong Kong’s transport needs in the mid-1980s, and on February 15, 1968, under the headline “Rapid-Transport System ‘A Must’”, the Post reported: “Hongkong must build a $3,404m rapid transit system, or a more expensive roads system, in the next 16 years – or face potentially devastating effects on its economy. This is the warning given by a team of experts [whose] rapid-transit plan envisages modern electric railway trains, 300 to 600 feet long, flashing along a 40-mile, four-line circuit of mostly underground track from Hongkong Island to the New Territories, carrying 2.5m people a day by 1986.”
On June 8, 1972, the Post reported that both “enthusiasm and scepticism” had greeted the government’s announcement, the previous day, that it had decided in principle to construct a HK$6 billion underground railway system for Hong Kong.
A photo of the first MTR cars to arrive in Hong Kong appeared in the May 17, 1978, issue. “Factory fresh, the cars were sitting on the vast deck of a container ship, the Benalder, at Kwai Chung yesterday morning,” read the caption. “The cars […] are 80 ft long and weigh 23 tons each [...] each train will consist of four cars […] Altogether 210 cars have been ordered.”
“Confusion as tube rolls”, ran the headline on October 2, 1979, as the MTR opened its first service, between Shek Kip Mei and Kwun Tong. The story continued: “About 230,000 people passed through the system, causing massive queues and, at times, bedlam.”
Hong Kong commuters benefit from longest covered outdoor escalator
Central-Mid-Levels escalator tops Ocean Park’s walkway to enter Guinness World Records
With rush-hour traffic between Central and Mid-Levels worsening by the day, a government study on “linking the two districts by a series of escalators, or even a cable car, or mono-rail” brought first mention of the Central-Mid-Levels escalator in the Post on February 28, 1982.
Twenty-one escalators at a cost of HK$26.5 million “from Cochrane Street to Conduit Road […] to be completed in 1988” was the first proposal described in the Post on March 30, 1984, as one of seven escalator routes between Sheung Wan and Admiralty.
The proposed 600 metres would beat out Ocean Park’s 225 metres for the title of longest covered outdoor escalator system in the world, the Post noted on June 22, 1986 (Guinness World Records lists the now 800 metres of escalators as the longest).
Problems abounded as development began, with the Post reporting, “Moving walkways project proceeding at a slower pace,” on July 22, 1986. Uncertainty over redevelopment of the Central Market building, through which the escalator would connect to the Central Elevated Walkway, delayed construction by another year before engineers finally decided to “build the walkway through the second floor of the market and take their chances on future redevelopment,” the Post reported on January 16, 1989.
Not until October 11, 1993, did the Post report, “The much-maligned Mid-Levels escalator is expected to open today, nine months behind schedule and costing more than six times its original estimate,” at a total cost of HK$240 million.