Almost 40 per cent dive in Hong Kong express rail passengers on second day of service, but MTR boss unperturbed
Only 46,463 travellers took trains on Monday, well short of previous estimate of 80,000 daily
Almost 40 per cent fewer passengers took Hong Kong’s new high-speed trains to mainland China during the second day of business on Monday, but the boss of the city’s railway operator insists sales will pick up as recommendations spread through word of mouth.
Just 46,463 travellers passed through the immigration checkpoint at Hong Kong’s West Kowloon terminal – a 38 per cent drop on the 75,517 on Sunday and a far cry from the 80,000 daily estimate by the MTR Corporation.
Tuesday’s number was also poor, with only 21,375 travelling in and out of West Kowloon as of 4pm.
But MTR Corp chairman Frederick Ma Si-hang on Tuesday gave an upbeat assessment for the HK$84.4 billion (US$10.8 billion) Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link, which has been more than a decade in the making.
Ma said during a visit to the station that he was “not worried” about ticket sales.
“For this kind of big infrastructure project, it takes time for it to pick up steam. People shouldn’t judge its popularity by the first or second day,” he said.
Ma envisaged the numbers growing as Hongkongers grew more familiar with the service.
“The high-speed rail will become very popular by word of mouth when people discover it’s possible to use the new service for a day trip to Guangzhou,” he said.
At Lo Wu and the Lok Ma Chau spur line – the two most popular Hong Kong-mainland border checkpoints – 192,296 people crossed on Monday at the former and 132,119 at the latter.
Monday’s plunge in passengers for the express rail came after the first day of service on Sunday saw confusion over ticket collections, disorderly crowds and technical glitches.
There were long lines to collect tickets pre-ordered via mainland website 12306.cn. Ma said the issue concerned integration of the local ticketing system with the mainland’s – a process not yet complete.
Passengers with bookings on 12306 were unable to pick up tickets from self-service machines, and were forced into long queues for between five and seven manned counters.
“We are in discussions with the China Railway Corporation to install automatic machines for issuing tickets booked on 12306. But it takes time,” Ma said.
On Tuesday, a public holiday in Hong Kong, large crowds were seen around shops and restaurants in the station, but travellers at the departure zone were few and far between.
Dr Hung Wing-tat, a fellow of the Hong Kong Society for Transportation Studies, said it was unfair to judge the rail link on just one or two days.
“It’s still too early to say if it will meet expectations,” Hung said. “It takes at least a month to really get a clear picture of turnover.”