Officials set new year target for allowing Hongkongers to buy tickets for high-speed rail link to mainland China online
China Railway Corporation’s 12306.cn platform presently restricted to those with mainland phone number, but transport minister Frank Chan wants to change all that in next six months
Hong Kong’s transport authorities are in talks with their mainland counterparts to allow high-speed train travellers departing West Kowloon terminus to buy tickets online in about six months.
Only those with mainland phone numbers can register to use the China Railway Corporation’s (CRC) official 12306.cn platform, or its app, so Hongkongers who want to ride the cross-border rail must purchase tickets at stations or through travel agents.
“We are in talks to see if you can just use your Hong Kong email address and home return permit [to register],” Secretary for Transport and Housing Frank Chan Fan said on a television programme on Sunday. “We have been actively studying this, and we hope to make the changes on the ticket selling platform so Hongkongers can enjoy the convenience.
“To make changes to [the booking platform], it requires detailed studies. We hope we can make this work in [about] six months.”
The home return permit is a travel document in the form of an ID card issued by mainland authorities to Hong Kong permanent residents for cross-border travel. It is also an important identity document during the holder’s stay on the mainland.
Those buying Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link tickets at West Kowloon terminus have to pay a service fee ranging from HK$10 to HK$30. The CRC’s website does not charge service fees, but Chan did not say if this would also be the case for travellers departing the city.
Hong Kong’s high-speed rail service, built at a cost of HK$84.4 billion (US$10.8 billion), begins operating on September 23 and will take passengers directly to 44 mainland destinations.
Tickets to six short-haul destinations such as Shenzhen and Guangzhou will cost between HK$78 and HK$247 one-way, while journeys to destinations further into the mainland, such as Beijing and Shanghai, will cost between HK$216 and HK$1,239.
The Hong Kong rail link will be operated by the MTR Corporation. Travellers can take a 48-minute, 142km journey to Guangzhou South, before connecting to the 25,000km mainland rail network operated by CRC.
The MTR Corp and its mainland counterpart will split fares for the six short-distance stops.
But, critics of the rail link, which arrived late and over budget, say in many cases it would be cheaper or faster, or even both, to fly to mainland cities. Yet, they have acknowledged that the rail network offers travellers from Hong Kong a direct route to at least 15 destinations lacking an airport, and bypasses the usual delays and hassle of flying.
Asked on the programme why there was only one direct train to Beijing each day, Chan said Hongkongers could take a train to Guangzhou and then change to another train to Beijing.
There are 34 trains to Guangzhou South railway station each day from Hong Kong.
The frequency of the service will be reviewed in the future, he added, depending on passenger demand.
Theo Lung, who is from the logistics industry and visits Guangzhou regularly for work, said he would be more inclined to take the high speed rail there or to other short-haul destinations if he could easily buy tickets online.
But he would fly to Beijing.
“Even if my flight is delayed for two or three hours, I would still get to Beijing faster than taking the train,” the 30-year-old said.
A return flight from Hong Kong to Beijing costs about HK$2,500, and takes about 3½ hours each way.
In comparison, it would cost HK$2,479 on the high-speed rail, with a nine-hour journey to Beijing.
Kae Wong, an avid traveller who has visited more than 50 mainland cities in 17 provinces, said she would consider the high-speed rail for middle distance destinations because it would save on the time it took to check in at the airports.
However, she said she would prefer to fly over long distances because a plane ticket costs almost the same as a train ticket.