Railway Dilemma in Hong Kong’s Northwest

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An expanding population comes with a spike in demand for public transportation, but the Hong Kong government might not be keeping pace.

A great many future Hong Kongers will make The Northwest New Territories (NWNT) of Hong Kong their new home. Now, the district is characterized by brownfield sites and farmland that the government aims to turn into more housing.

The government is pushing forward two projects to develop Hung Shui Kiu and Yuen Long South, expected to accommodate 218,000 and 88,000 people in the coming years, but railway services in the district are not keeping up with the housing expansion.

Opened in 2003, the West Rail Line of the MTR is relied on by hundreds of thousands of residents for their daily commute to Hong Kong Island for work.


Studies have shown that loading of the West Rail Line in 2015 had already reached 104% during morning peak. Residents often need to wait for three trains before they can get onboard.

“It is impossible to board the train at Kam Sheung Road station in the morning,” said Alice Chan, a long-term resident in Yuen Long who works in Tin Hau. “I have to either leave home early or wait for three trains.”

Over the years, there have been calls for expanding the railway services in the district.

On Wednesday, Liberal Party lawmaker Frankie Yick, who represents the transport sector in the Legislative Council, asked if there would be a future link between NWNT and Hong Kong Island and if a coastal Railway between Tuen Mun and Tsuen Wan could be reconsidered.

But he was only met with lukewarm response from the government.

What, me worry?

Raymond So, Acting Secretary for Transport and Housing, only boasted about the increasing carrying capacity of the West Rail Line.

“Comparing with 2015, the carrying capacity of the West Rail Line is expected to increase by at least 14 percent when it is fully operated with 8-car trains in the second half of 2018,” said So.

The government projects, that with the commissioning of the “Tai Wai to Hung Hom Section” of the Shatin to Central Link in mid-2019, the West Rail Link will see its carrying capacity increase upwards of 37 percent. By that time, the two links will be connected by Hung Hom station.

But then, the NWNT residents will still be left with just one choice – the West Rail Link, as the government has no intention to construct a new railway along the coastline between Tuen Mun and Tsuen Wan, citing high construction costs and insufficient passenger flow. To get out of Tuen Mun, residents mainly rely on Tuen Mun Road, which often sees traffic accidents that can cause severe blockage of this road corridor.

In Hong Kong 2030+, a development blueprint by the government to keep the city sustainable beyond 2030, railway has been singled out for its role in making a high-density city livable.

The plan proposes “underscoring compact development with railway as the backbone, complemented by other modes of public transport and good pedestrian and cycling networks”. However, the government is doing little in this regard for the NWNT residents.

The Strategic Studies on Railways and Major Roads beyond 2030, which came under the backdrop of Hong Kong 2030+, explore the transport infrastructure required for the developments.

The studies mentioned projects that will form the transport infrastructure blueprint up to 2031, including the Shatin to Central Link, Hong Kong Section of Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link, Northern Link, and other major roads.

The government studies have recognized the need for improving transport infrastructure in NWNT, but the government only says it would bid for resources and commence studies for improving the carrying capacity of the heavy railways in the NWNT beyond 2031.

In the face of an increasing population in NWNT, lawmakers proposed the construction of a new cross-harbour railway running from Tuen Mun via Lantau Island to Hong Kong Island and Kowloon. But nothing has been further discussed in this regard.

Citizens have become used to waiting on the platform; they will continue to wait for policy action to relieve congestion on their morning commute.

(Printer – R&R Publishing Limited, Suite 705, 7/F, Cheong K. Building, 84-86 Des Voeux Road Central, HK)