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Hong Kong high-speed rail

Passenger totals for high-speed rail at 63 per cent of target in first month, Hong Kong MTR says

  • City’s railway operator says progress being made as average figures are between about 30,000 and 40,000 people daily
  • No word on whether it would be difficult to reach the government’s projected total profit of HK$671 million this year
PUBLISHED : Thursday, 25 October, 2018, 8:35pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 25 October, 2018, 10:53pm

The cross-border high-speed rail link carried about 63 per cent of its targeted number of passengers in its first month of operation, but more people are now trying the new services, Hong Kong’s railway operator said on Thursday.

Patronage stood at 1.5 million between September 23 and October 22 compared with the 2.4 million the government estimated would use the line, according to the MTR Corporation.

MTR Corp chief of operations Francis Li Shing-kee said on Thursday progress was being made towards boosting passenger numbers.

“It is still new and takes time to build traffic,” Li explained. “On average, there are about 30,000 to 40,000 people taking the high-speed trains on a weekday, which is not too bad in the initial stage of operations.”

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The government came up with what it called a “conservative” goal a month before the link was launched by cutting the original estimated passenger figure by 28.64 per cent to 80,100 per day. Based on the first month, the average patronage daily was 50,000.

The HK$84.4 billion (US$10.8 billion), 26km Hong Kong section of the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link connects to the country’s 25,000km network. It was launched on September 23 after a three-year delay and budget overrun by one-third.

Li would not say whether it would be difficult to reach the government’s projected total profit of HK$671 million this year.

While it offers a faster route to Guangzhou, at 47 minutes, compared to the existing two-hour cross-border through train services, the express rail link is most popular with trips to Chaoshan, a region in the eastern part of Guangdong province.

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It now takes about three hours to Chaoshan station in the city of Chaozhou, the hometown of Hong Kong-based billionaire Li Ka-shing, compared with about six hours by car or cross-border coach.

“Travellers can easily make a same-day return trip to the Chaoshan area, which was not convenient in the old days,” the MTR official said.

Lawmaker and former Kowloon-Canton Railway Corporation chairman Michael Tien Puk-sun said there were more inbound travellers than outbound, which meant there was greater potential for mainland residents to come to Hong Kong for concerts, gourmet dining or shopping.

Tien, also a member of the country’s top legislative body – the National People’s Congress – called on the central government to allow Hongkongers working across the border to enjoy a tax ­incentive, by counting a full day as a half day of work.

“If exempted from the tax, this group would likely take the high-speed rail to work,” Tien said.

The express line terminates at West Kowloon in Hong Kong. The underground complex has become a tourist attraction in its own right.

Among a 100-person local tour group was an 80-year-old grandmother surnamed Tam. The visitors were exploring the terminal for about 30 minutes on Thursday morning during a one-day trip that included a buffet lunch.

“It is very beautiful and nice,” Tam said. “It may mean more for younger people because it’s a long walk for me, and the railway station on the mainland is quite far away from my hometown.”

Tam noted she normally travelled to Xinhui [district of Jiangmen city] via cross-border coach from her home in Central, which took her about three hours and cost HK$120 per trip.

Another visitor was Orsi Faruas, 36, an assistant to a CEO who runs a trading company in Hungary, looking around on her first trip to the city en route to Guilin, Zhangjiajie, and Beijing for holiday, before flying to Shanghai for business.

I was a bit lost when I got here because not many staff can speak English
Orsi Faruas, visitor from Hungary

Looking puzzled, Faruas was queuing for a high-speed rail ticket to Guilin on Friday. She said she had hoped to see more English-speaking staff.

“I am very interested in the trains to see how fast and convenient they are,” she added. “I was a bit lost when I got here because not many staff can speak English.”

Still others came to Hong Kong for shopping. A student surnamed Xu, 18, and her friend surnamed Chen, 33, took the high-speed rail from their hometown of Fuzhou. They voiced worries when asked whether they knew the luggage they were pulling would not fit on board according to national travel rules.

“Are you serious? I just bought the luggage here a few minutes ago for about HK$500, which is as expensive as the train ticket,” Xu said. “I’ve never encountered any problems with luggage of this size on the mainland because I’ve never seen any law enforcement.” The piece she bought was about twice the maximum allowed size, which is 20kg, or 130cm when combining length, width and height.

But the two expressed happiness with the journey in, which they said was about 30 per cent cheaper than the flights they normally took to Hong Kong.