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EXOTIC RAILWAYS
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 as noted.

Hong Kong Streetcars, Hong Kong Island
Streetcars 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 while.

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

 

 

 

28  90

120  169

128

Wikipedia Page

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 idea.

 
               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 360 Gondola

   .

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
Wikipedia Page
List of Stations
Train Details

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

Wikipedia Page

 

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.

 
Kowloon Ferry Terminal c.1974                                    Star Cruise Ship                  

Kowloon Ferry
Wikipedia Page

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 from Macau.

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 2 mixed 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????

Macao Ferry
Jetfoil Ferries

Macau City Map

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 cableway. 

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

Ngong Ping 360

Return To Part 1: Hong Kong Trains      Peak Tram