Hong Kong was hit by railway mania on Sunday, with excited crowds flocking to the MTR’s brand new Whampoa and Ho Man Tin stations as the long-awaited Kwun Tong Line extension began operating. After a one-year delay due to engineering difficulties, space constraints and limited construction hours to avoid disturbing residents, the HK$7.2 billion project was finally up and running with the first train departing from Whampoa at 6.10am. MTR fever had already taken hold well before then as an excited crowd of more than 100 was already waiting impatiently outside Whampoa station at 5am to take the first train to Tiu Keng Leng. The 2.6km extension, which was originally scheduled to open in August last year, connects Whampoa to the Kwun Tong Line at Yau Ma Tei via the intermediate station of Ho Man Tin. The shutters were barely raised when the first batch of commuters and train enthusiasts rushed into Whampoa station. MTR Corporation chief executive Lincoln Leong Kwok-kuen and operations director Adi Lau Tin-shing took the first ride as part of a ceremony launching the new service. But the train came to a sharp halt just a few seconds after it departed. “There was a not-very-smooth operation which lasted about one to two seconds. After that the train restarted and has been running very smoothly to Tiu Keng Leng station,” Lau explained later. “I want to emphasise once again that for any new system, new equipment and operation, there will be a period in which teething problems have to be resolved.” Nobody seemed to mind the slight hiccup, with hundreds of passengers cheering as the train pulled away from the station. The MTR said around 108,000 people used the new stations up to 5pm on Sunday. They are designed for some 146,000 passengers a day. The new system is aimed at easing traffic congestion in the crowded Hung Hom district. But it has also led to rent increases for small business operators. A newspaper seller with a stand right outside the Whampoa station exit on Hung Hom Road said his rent jumped by more than 20 per cent when he renewed the lease three months ago. “They always said an increase in footfall would bring business. A surge in rent is therefore a must,” he said. “But how does the flood of commuters help our business? We only sell newspapers and daily necessities,” the vendor added. A woman who has lived in Whampoa Garden for two decades said many small shops had shut down due to rent rises. “There were a number of boutiques here in Dock Street which I went to very often. But they closed one by one recently as they said the rent went up by 30 per cent,” she said. “It is a pity. The community used to be full of small local shops.” The chairman of the Whampoa Garden Owners Representatives’ Committee, Alfred Leung, said rents for most shops and flats had risen by 30 per cent due to the new stations. “If the small shops can’t cope with the high rents, they will be replaced by chain stores. It is a common concept. There is a long waiting list for shops even though the rent is high,” Leung said, adding that he expected further rent increases. Whampoa station has split concourses like the one in Causeway Bay, with trains running every four minutes during peak hours. At Ho Man Tin station – the biggest interchange on the MTR network and set to eventually connect to the long-awaited Sha Tin to Central link – there will be a train every two minutes. The travelling time from Whampoa to Admiralty will be cut from 30 minutes to 15 minutes. The Transport Department said the opening was smooth. The government has introduced four new green minibus railway feeder routes to tie in with the opening of the new stations.