Hong Kong Mass Transit
I visited Hong Kong
twice, first in January and February 1974, then 35 years later
in January 2009. Photos are from the 2009 trip, historical
photos are from websites
Hong Kong Streetcars, Hong Kong Island
and high speed mass transit co-exist in Hong Kong, as they do in
Toronto, Munich, and other intelligently planned cities. In
fact, a proposal to replace the streetcars in Hong Kong with
another subway was voted down by the citizens. Surface stops,
frequent service, low priced fares, and no stairs won the day.
Hong Kong Tramways dates back to 1904 and the cars look much the
same today as they did then, as well as in 1974 during my first
visit. As double deckers, they look top heavy and ride pretty
roughly, especially around sharp corners. There were no real
skyscrapers in 1974, but lots now.
The streetcar makes a long 13 km east west run through downtown
Hong Kong and returns on double track. A complete round trip on
the Kennedy Town - Shau Kei Wan route will take 2 hours 20
minutes, so it's a great way to see the new and the old
close-up. There are 163 cars available for service, running six
different variations of the downtown route. All were built and
refurbished by the railway shops.
We rode car #155 for quite a
Car #6 trailed behind
Many tramcars date back to the 1930's, with many modernizations
and improvements across the years. Newer cars were built in the
1950's and 60's, and 3 were built in 2000 with air conditioning.
Two older cars (#28 and #128) were refurbished to look like the
original 1912 versions for tourists and private parties.
The cars can hit 50 Km/hour, run on 550 volts DC, and travel on
1067 mm (42 inch) gauge track. Cars are rated at 115 passengers
and run 1.5 minutes apart in rush hour while competing for space
amongst auto and pedestrian traffic.
Use MTR to Central or Admiralty Stations or the Kowloon Ferry;
both drop you within a block of the tracks. Cash fare or
Octopus card as you alight.
Historical Photos from Tramways Website
Hong Kong Mass Transit Railway (MTR)
In 1974, MTR was just a dream about
to change Hong Kong forever.
The first line was opened in 1979, with many mote to follow. The
system now carries four million passengers every weekday on very modern 7, 8
or 12 car trains (depending on the route) - fast, smooth, quiet, frequent, cheap, and
on-time. There are 211 Km of track with 150 stations. There are
10 subway routes and 11 surface routes.
Station announcements are in Cantonese, Mandarin, and English,
plus illuminated route maps over the doors, making it easy to
get off at the right stop. The many routes seem complicated at
first so a good map is essential at all times. Stations are huge
with many exits. There are at least three flights of stairs and
probably one or two escalator rides to get to your train.
Turnstiles, not to mention the stairs, make large luggage a bad
Click HERE for larger map
Click HERE for expanded view
of downtown map
Although there is a human driver, the trains are basically
computer controlled to stop within inches of the correct
position. Most station platforms have glass walls to prevent
people from accidentally falling on the tracks, so the train
must stop precisely at the automatic sliding doors in the
protective screens. Most cars can hold up to 300 passengers, and at rush
hour, probably more. The trains can hit 80 Km/hour between
stations with very smooth acceleration and braking systems. A
few lines have a first class car in the middle of the
train; for double fare, you get a padded seat and leg room.
The airport line is less crowded and very first class, arriving
at Central and Kowloon Stations in less than 25 minutes. Get
your Octopus card as you leave the airport - it gives a return
trip to the airport plus 3 free days travel on the rest of the
MTR for a reasonable fee. You can add more money to the card at
any MTR station
Airport Express on Cross Harbour Bridge, taken
from Ngong Ping
All subway and surface lines are electric, standard gauge (4 ft
8-1/2 inches, 1435 mm) but diesel powered inter-city express
trains also use the surface lines. These diesels have a gorgeous
burbling exhaust, well muffled for urban environments.
Mong Kok Station inside and out
Yau Ma Tei Station inside
Train at Yau Ma Tei
Local bus on Nathan Road
The MTR runs special dedicated trains to Disneyland from Sunny
Bay Station. The windows are shaped as a profile of Mickey
Mouse. There must be a word for something that is too cute for
words. The station is also pure Disney.
MTR Hong Kong
Hong Kong Buses, Hong Kong Island and Kowloon
The buses are all relatively new rear-engined double decker jobs
from various makers. All the old front-engined "snout-nosed"
buses I saw on my first trip are gone. Like the streetcars, the
new buses seem top heavy but sway on corners is amazingly
slight, although the ride can be rough. Pollution and noise
suppression are excellent - no smoke or smell.
The upstairs views are pretty good if you don't get sea-sick
from all the motion. The buses have great acceleration and
brakes, so hang on tight. A good ride is from Central to Stanley
or Aberdeen on Hong Kong Island. If you want scary, try the trip
from Victoria Peak back to Central.
There are five privately owned bus companies serving the Hong
Kong area with large buses on fixed routes, plus MTR which runs
feeder buses to train stations. Publicly owned mini
buses cover more local and feeder routes. Cash fare or
prepaid Octopus card work on all.
Leyland Titans c.1974
Modern rear engine buses 2009
Things you can't do on a bus
At Wampoa Mall
On Nathan Road
More suggestions you probably should observe in Hong Kong
Hong Kong - Kowloon Ferries
The Star ferries carry passengers across the Victoria Harbour,
between Hong Kong Island and Kowloon. beginning in 1888. The
fleet of twelve ferries operates four routes across the harbour,
carrying over 70,000 passengers a day. All are diesel
electric, built between 1956 and 1998.
Even though there
are now other ways to cross the harbour (by MTR and road
tunnels), the Star Ferry continues to provide an efficient,
popular, and inexpensive crossing of the harbour.
The main route
runs between Central and Tsim Sha Tsui, opposite the Peninsula
Hotel, where I stayed in 1974. Only millionaires can afford to
stay there now. The original Edinborough
pier and clock tower I remember from my 1974 trip were torn down
and replaced in 2006, sans clock. The other routes are Wan Chai
to Tsim Sha Tsui, Central to Hung Hom,
and Wan Chai to Hung Hom. A Harbour Tour makes an indirect,
circular route to all the stops, namely Tsim Sha Tsui, Central,
Wan Chai, and Hung Hom.
Ferry scenes on Victoria Harbour, Celestial is the
oldest, built in 1956.
Star Cruise Ship
Hong Kong - Macau Ferries
Several fleets of high-speed Macau ferry
vessels serve the 40-mile route between
Hong Kong and Macau: jetfoils,
turbo-cats, jumbo-cats and CotaiJet.
There are more than 100 sailings
throughout the day and evening, with
all-night service by jetfoils.
There are two terminals in
Hong Kong. The main sea
terminal and heliport are
located in Shun Tak Centre,
on the waterfront west of
Central District on Hong
Kong Island. It stands over
the MTR Sheung Wan Station.
The other terminal is the
China Ferry Terminal offering ferry
services from the Kowloon
side, located on the Tshim Sha Tsui waterfront
alongside Harbour City, and
is used for Jumbocats, and
Hover-ferry sailing to and
In Macau, the Maritime
Terminal and heliport is
situated in the Outer
Harbour, close to lots of
casinos and hotels. The
older, more interesting
city, is a modest hike west
and inland a bit. Good restaurants exist but are
hard to find.
The Boeing 929 - 100 Jetfoil hydrofoil ferries are
90 feet long with a beam of 31 feet carrying 190
passengers in very comfortable seats. They can
travel 50 miles per hour using two 3300 horsepower
gas turbines driving
axial flow, 24,000 gallons/minute
Rockwell Rocketdyne Powerjet 20's. The ship burns
430 US gallons of fuel per hour, getting about 0.1
miles per gallon. The hydrofoils lift the ship's
hull out of the water giving a very smooth ride even
in a large swell.
The oldest Jetfoil "Flores"
built in 1975.
A year before our trip to Hong Kong
and Macau, 133 of 435 passengers
were injured, 19 of them seriously,
when two high-speed ferries, Funchal
and Santa Maria, collided five
nautical miles away from Macau and
limped back to Macau to treat the
injured. Now I know why some, but
not all, Jetfoil ships have
seatbelts. But where in hell was the
radar that night????
Ngong Ping 360 Cable Cars to Giant Buddha
Ngong Ping 360, sometimes called Skyrail, travels about 5.7 Km
on a dual cable system over 8 towers (counting the two terminal
towers), rising 428 meters on Lantau Island. One cable hauls the
cars, the other acts as the support rail. Each of 109 cabins
carry up to 17 passengers on the 25 minute ride, giving a
capacity of 3500 passengers per hour each way.
The contractor and initial operator was Skyrail-ITM of
Australia, using equipment built by Leitner of Austria, and is
owned and now operated by MTR. It was completed in 2006, but
closed for 6 months in 2007 when an empty cabin fell 50 meters
in an after hours accident during a system brake test. Skyrail-ITM was fired after the accident and MTR took over the
Mules from Canada were used to carry equipment and supplies
through sensitive environmental areas so no new roads needed to be
built. No one asswssed the environmental impact of all that mule
poop. Large items were brought in by helicopter.
The cableway starts near the MTR Tung Chung Station and
terminates near the Giant Buddha at Ngong Ping, a theme village
especially built to exploit tourists. There are no intermediate
stops. Cash fare or prepaid Octopus card.
Views from the Ngong Ping 360 Cable Car
Return To Part 1: Hong Kong
Trains Peak Tram