Hong Kong MTR

Opening stations on scandal-hit Sha Tin-Central rail link could lead to overcrowding at Kowloon Tong, Hong Kong district councillors warn

  • However lawmaker Michael Tien believes move could instead divert passengers from major transfer point
PUBLISHED : Friday, 09 November, 2018, 2:11pm
UPDATED : Friday, 09 November, 2018, 5:15pm

A plan to partially open Hong Kong’s scandal-plagued Sha Tin-Central rail link by mid-2019 could lead to overcrowding at a major transfer station, district councillors warned on Friday.

Their comments came after lawmaker and former rail boss Michael Tien Puk-sun revealed that the MTR Corporation planned to begin operations at several stations – Tai Wai, Hin Keng and Diamond Hill – along the long-delayed link before the middle of next year.

But Secretary for Transport and Housing Frank Chan Fan said on Friday that the government and the corporation had not reached a conclusion about the partial opening, given complications involved such as the signal system and safety facilities, and the impact brought about by actual operations.

“We are still studying [the impact],” Chan said. “We have not yet come to a conclusion.”

MTR to ‘carefully consider’ opening part of Sha Tin-Central rail link by mid-2019

Ho Hin-ming, chairman of Kowloon City district council’s working group on the Sha Tin-Central link said he was worried that the partial opening might lead to overcrowding at Kowloon Tong station, the stop after Diamond Hill and a major transfer point for three busy rail lines.

“We are concerned that the station may not be able to withstand the extra people,” Ho told an RTHK radio programme.

Although Diamond Hill was also a transfer station, he said, Kowloon Tong served as the main stop for people looking to cross the harbour between central Kowloon and central Hong Kong Island.

However Tien, speaking on the same programme, said he believed opening Diamond Hill could divert busy passenger flows from Kowloon Tong, especially for commuters wanting to travel between east Kowloon and east Hong Kong Island.

The lawmaker said he was certain the partial opening would take place around the middle of next year, because the MTR would reduce the number of cars from 16 to nine for the popular East Rail Line trains. Kowloon Tong is currently the only transfer point on this line.

“The trains will be more crowded [after the car reduction],” Tien said. “They will have to open other stations to divert traffic.”

Ho’s fellow working group member Kenny Lai Kwong-wai said he hoped the partial opening could also include the two stations after Kowloon Tong, namely Sung Wong Toi and To Kwa Wan, to ease road traffic problems in that part of town.

The area’s only public transport connections are by road at the moment, and commuters often hit heavy traffic.

“Residents in the area have been keenly expecting the opening of the rail line for years,” Lai said.

However the two stops are close to Hung Hom station, where a HK$97.1 billion (US$12.3 billion) expansion project was at the centre of a shoddy work scandal. Steel bars at the station were allegedly cut short to fake proper installation into couplers on the platform. It remains unknown when the station will be ready for operation.

A high-level inquiry is currently being conducted, and the government is considering whether to crack open the platform in question for examination.

Tien said he understood that the MTR had reservations about whether to open the two stations, as there were concerns that this would affect construction work at Hung Hom.

The rail operator earlier said it aimed to open the whole section of the rail link from Tai Wai to Hung Hom by September next year.

The link’s second section, from Hung Hom to Admiralty, was originally slated to open in December 2020. But the date was pushed back to 2021 before the Hung Hom scandal broke in May.