It’s an early start as Hong Kong’s HK$16.9 billion South Island Line opens smoothly
Passengers say they will now get to work or school quicker, but bus and minibus services may be hit amid a Transport Department review
More than nine years after the HK$16.9 billion project was confirmed and after its completion date was twice postponed, the MTR’s South Island Line finally began operations on Wednesday, giving Hongkongers a long-awaited choice to beat worsening traffic congestion in Southern district.
With local schools still on holiday, the first day of service opened more smoothly than many Southern district councillors expected – although some were wary of whether the railway giant could keep up when normal traffic resumes after the holidays.
As of 5pm on Wednesday, or 11 hours into operations, there had been more than 92,000 passenger journeys at the four new stations – South Horizons, Lei Tung, Wong Chuk Hang and Ocean Park.
Watch: The South Island Line finally opens
A trip from Admiralty to Ocean Park takes four minutes, while the journey to the terminus at South Horizons takes 11 minutes.
The MTR Corporation estimated that the new line would serve up to 170,000 passengers per day during the 18 hours that it is open. There are about 350,000 Southern district residents and commuters.
The first train rolled off from South Horizons station on Ap Lei Chau at 5.55am – five minutes earlier than the normal start.
The automatic, driverless train was packed with railway enthusiasts, such as one family living in Tuen Mun who woke up at 3.30am to take a HK$300 taxi trip to witness the 7km journey.
Daniel Chan Hoi-man, a 16-year-old South Horizons resident who previously had to budget 45 minutes to reach his school by bus, was happy. “Now I’m definitely going to take the MTR. I can sleep in a bit more,” he said.
The transport authority weighed in to say that the operation of the new line and other public transport had generally been smooth despite earlier fears that the MTR would not be able to cope with the three-carriage design, as well as the six-level station at Admiralty, which will handle traffic for four lines, including the future Sha Tin to Central link.
The MTR says it can handle traffic until 2031, based on the area’s demography and economic activities.
Anticipating far lower demand for road transport, the Transport Department said it would review around 20 bus routes for possible restructuring, consolidation or cancellation within the coming half year.
The new MTR line did not deter passengers from taking other modes of transportation, although the number of bus commuters dropped by about one-third at Lei Tung and Wong Chuk Hang bus terminals, according to Southern district councillors.
Judy Lai, a Lei Tung resident, chose to take the bus to her workplace in Chai Wan as it was “too inconvenient to change trains all the time”.
The councillors called on the MTR to increase its interchange discount, which currently ranges from 30 cents to HK$1, for eight bus and green minibus routes that started yesterday.