Not busy, apparently

I have previously written about Wrong MTR station names and the Hong Kong Free Press has an interesting article on a similar theme

Foreign influence Part 1: Lost in translation

[..] Mong Kok is another prime example. The former coastal region was named after the overgrown silvergrass found in the area 芒角 mong4 gok3, (‘corner of silvergrass’).

When the government reclaimed the bay and developed the area in the early 1900s, the Chinese name was changed to 旺角(wong6 gok3) which means “Prosperity Point.”

The English name was never updated.

I remember being told that 芒角 meant "busy" place, but that seems to be another Chinese character 忙with the same Pinyin romanization, which is an understandable error for anyone who didn't check a 19th Century map.  

The author of the HKFP piece seems to be Chinese, so predictably makes a better job of this than I did!



The full Tuen Ma line will open on June 27.  SCMP predictably came up with a strange headline: Hong Kong MTR: key section of costly Sha Tin-Central link to open by June 27 after repeated delays

A key stretch of the long-overdue Sha Tin to Central link, Hong Kong’s most expensive rail project, will fully open on June 27 after repeated delays and cost overruns, the city’s transport minister has said, while pledging the government will learn lessons from the saga.

Long overdue, yes, but the section of track (from Kai Tak to Hung Hom) actually connects Tuen Mun and Ma On Shan, not Sha Tin and Central.  I may have mentioned this a few times over several years.

RTHK got it right with its headline: MTR's Tuen Ma Line to get going on June 27 (yes, the name comes from the districts at the two ends), whilst HKFP had a rather oblique headline: Two new MTR stations to open next month, forming Hong Kong’s longest metro line.  I think the word you may be looking for is “completing”.  Or, more accurately, joining the Ma On Sha Line with West Rail.

I still think this is not a great name - at one stage there was a suggestion that it would be the East-West line, because it goes from the Eastern New Territories to the Western New Territories (and for part of it you’d only have to add a few letters at the start of the name, so that would save money).  It would avoid confusion with the Tsuen Wan line.  Or is that just me?

MTR Fail - obscured by signs

fo tanFirst they put up a new display screen with the times of the next few trains and other useful information (to replace the old smaller displays).

Then they installed a large metal sign that largely blocks views of the screen (from one direction).  

This new sign marks what will be the front of the 9-car trains that are being introduced over the next 18 months to replace all the existing 12-car trains (and the frequency will be increased at some point so the total capacity shouldn’t be affected). 

Yes, this is the much-delayed and misleadingly named “Sha Tin to Central Link” project.  Hilariously, the project website still has a map that implies that trains will run from Tai Wai through East Kowloon to Admiralty.  That was the original idea before the KCR and MTR merged, but it was changed a very long time ago, which is why they need to introduce shorter trains on the East Rail line for when they run through to Exhibition Centre and Admiralty stations (which will have shorter platforms).    

11 years ago we were told that it would open in “2015 or 2016” (MTR Corp submits new rail plan and vows to minimise disruption).  Those dates have subsequently been revised several times, and the latest plan seems to be to hope that it will open in around two years time (so no rush to introduce the shorter trains):

“the targeted completion date in the first quarter of 2022 faces a number of challenges, but the project team continues to work hard to achieve this programme” 

Things have not gone very well.  The MTR claim that the overall project is now 93% complete, but the only section that is open is from Tai Wai to Kai Tak, extending what was the Ma On Shan line, and now renamed to be the Tuen Ma line phase 1.  Next year this should connect through to West Rail (Tuen Mun to Ma On Shan, hence the name that probably no-one will confuse with the Tsuen Wan line).

Yes, right, this was supposed to be about the sign.  Would it really have been so difficult to have a narrower sign to mark the end of the 9-car trains and then moved the display screen to be alongside it?  So, you know, passengers could see the time of the next train.

This is a general problem on the MTR, both on platforms and in station concourses, with a jumble of random signs that seem to have been designed and installed without any co-ordination (Sign A tells you this and needs to go here, and Sign B has a different purpose and needs to go there).  Indeed, further up the same platform there’s an “Exit” sign partially obscuring another display screen.

Red Taxi, Green Taxi

Green taxiRather confusingly, there are several red taxis driving around Hong Kong dressed up as green taxis.

In Hong Kong we have red “urban taxis” that have higher fares and can operate everywhere except the south part of Lantau island.

Green taxis can only operate in the more northerly parts of the New Territories (such as Tai Po and Tuen Mun), and the east (Ma On Shan and Sai Kung, but excluding Tseung Kwan O).  Here's the map (pdf).

They can also go to a few special locations (e.g. Tsing Yi and Tseun Wan MTR stations, the airport, some hospitals, Disneyland, Sha Tin racecourse) and on some highways.  Details are here.

end of New Territories taxis operating areaIf you look closely when you are travelling around Hong Kong, you might notice the signs showing roads that are prohibited for green taxis.

Apparently there are only 75 blue Lantau taxis (operating on Lantau Island and Chek Lap Kok).

It’s an odd system.  If you live at the edge of the New Territories taxi zone and want to go out of that zone, you either have to wait for a red taxi, take a specific route (e.g. to Tseun Wan MTR), or negotiate with the driver of a green taxi to take you somewhere he’s not supposed to go.  Or take a minibus.     

So it’s rather strange that an advertiser is allowed to turn a red taxi into a green taxi.

Wrong MTR station names

Many MTR stations have really confusing “English” names on the official maps.

尖沙咀 appears as “Tsim Sha Tsui" on signs.  Good luck trying to pronounce that - and if your valiant effort is “Sim Sha Chewy” you won’t be understood by locals because it's actually more like "Jim Sa Joy".

紅磡 is shown as “Hung Hom”, but really it’s Hong Ham, which I always find confusing.

旺角 isn’t “Mong Kok” (as the MTR would have you believe), it’s "Wong Gok". 

上水 isn’t “Sheung Shui”, it’s something like “song soy”,

Some are more or less correct (at least to my tin ear), such as: 葵芳 Kwai Fong and nearby 葵興 Kwai Hing, and others are probably close enough, though it would help if you pronounce

  • 大 as “dai” (not “tai” as the MTR have it), 
  • 沙 as “sa” or “za” (not “sha”),
  • 上 as “soeng” (not “sheung”)

But why can’t we have simple Romanization that's easy to understand?

Man “falls on to tracks”

On Thursday I was on the southbound KCR (sorry, that’s the MTR East Rail Line) when the train came to a halt in the Beacon Hill Tunnel just north of Kowloon Tong station. 

Cue the usual announcement about a train being in the platform at the next station, but it soon became apparent that this was something more serious.  The MTR website eventually announced that there was “a trespasser at Kowloon Tong station”, though there was a less euphemistic version (now deleted) from @mtrupdate (an unofficial source of news about the MTR train service).

After about 25 minutes the train reversed slowly back to Tai Wai station, where there was no service in either direction and long queues for taxis.

The Hong Kong Standard managed this top quality piece of journalism:

East Rail services disrupted after man falls onto tracks dies

Train services on East Rail Line were disrupted for about 30 minutes after a man in his 50s fell onto the tracks at Kowloon Tong station.

The middle-aged man was certified dead by emergency services at the scene.

At about 13:46pm this afternoon, the MTR Corporation said normal train service is gradually resuming after the person has been removed from the track area at the station.

Trains between Hung Hom and Sha Tin station were suspended.

The grammar! The tenses!  “13:46 pm this afternoon”.  And the interruption was actually close to an hour, rather than 30 minutes.  But I can’t find anything at all from the SCMP.

When does the MTR plans to install platform screen doors on the East Rail line?  It seems that this will have to wait for the much-delayed (and misleadingly named) Sha Tin to Central link:

Delays on MTR link, lack of platform doors seen as suicide risk 

Sunday, 14 December, 2014

Delays to the long-awaited Sha Tin-to-Central link could have a human cost, suicide-prevention experts warned as they called on the MTR Corporation to speed up installation of platform safety doors at stations.

A total of 22 stations on the East Rail and Ma On Shan lines still lack doors, leaving open access to the track. They will be installed as part of the work on the new railway, which is due to open in 2018 but is behind schedule.

From 2005 to April this year, 27 people took their own lives on stations run by the former KCR - including all of those without platform doors. In the same period, Transport Bureau figures show, nine people killed themselves at other MTR stations, with none since 2011.

[..] A spokeswoman for the MTR said gates would be installed on the two lines during the Sha Tin-to-Central project, which would involve platform modifications and a new signalling system.

"As some East Rail Line stations are about 100 years old, the platform structure has to be strengthened and the curvature at some platforms has to be adjusted," she said.

But with the HK$80 billion project 11 months behind schedule - in part because of the discovery of relics at the To Kwa Wan station site - Yip fears more unnecessary deaths.

"We have talked to the MTR for almost a decade and it is a matter of urgency now," he said. "When you go to Kowloon Tong or Sha Tin, there is quite a bit of risk … there are more cases at these two stations."

Kowloon Tong station is less than 40 years old (and very busy), so why not start there?

MTR rules, rules, rules

Last time I was in London, I didn’t swipe my card correctly and so I got charged for several “incomplete journeys”.  I filled in an online form explaining what had happened, and received a refund a day or two later.  Great service.

Then, back in Hong Kong I went to meet my wife on an MTR platform, but she wasn’t feeling well so we exited the station.  I was charged HK$9.8 - it turned out I had been in the station for 22 minutes, and if you enter and leave at the same station more than 20 minutes later they charge you HK$10.

I fully understand why they have this charge, but it is slightly ridiculous because if you want to circumvent it you simply travel (let’s say) from Wan Chai to Tsuen Wan and straight back to Admiralty and you will only pay HK$4.5.

Anyway, I tried to explain the circumstances to the station staff, but of course (this being Hong Kong) they have to fill in a form.  A few days later I get a letter explaining the relevant MTR byelaws and hoping that this clarifies the situation.

Hong Kong not so good–MTR interchanges

The MTR “train trip planner” recommends that for early and late departures from East Rail stations to the airport you should go via Hung Hom, Nam Cheong & Tsing Yi.  This seems like bad advice, because it requires you to use two of the worst interchanges on the MTR:

imageAt Nam Cheong, you can stroll across from a northbound West Rail service to a southbound Tung Chung line train (towards Central), but if you want to switch to the northbound service (to get to or from the airport) it takes five minutes to go down, across and then up again.

imageAt Tsing Yi, the Tung Chung line and Airport Express tracks run parallel to each other (picture from here).  But here there’s not even one cross-platform interchange - you need to go all the way down to the ground level, cross under the tracks and then go all the way back up again.  Which probably takes 5 minutes. Would it really have been so difficult to provide a simpler and quicker cross-platform interchange?

Of course there are plenty of very good interchanges.  To switch between the Kwun Tong line and the Tsuen Wan line you simply have to walk across the platform at either Mong Kok (same direction) or Prince Edward (opposite directions).  But you should ignore this misinformation

Or there’s Yau Tong, North Point or Lai King.  Here, the most common interchanges are cross-platform, with a short walk up or down if you are going in the other direction.

Admiralty (plan) is good for the Tsuen Wan line to Island Line, but now there’s also the South Island Line, which is 3 or 4 levels down (past the so-called Sha Tin to Central link platforms, opening not very soon).

Others are not quite so easy.  You’ll have a long walk at Quarry Bay (or a long wait for a lift), but North Point is an easier alternative for most journeys. 

Kowloon Tong is a very busy interchange with a bit of a walk from one line to the other, and the layout is somewhat confusing.  It was designed as an interchange station - the Kowloon Canton Railway (KCR - now known as MTR East Rail) started operating in 1910, Kowloon Tong station KCR station only opened in 1982, a couple of years after the MTR station - but the physical layout of the two lines makes it difficult to do any more. 

imageAs an alternative you can change to West Rail at Hung Hom (not bad - cross-platform interchanges available, if you don’t mind waiting sometimes) and then again at Tsim Sha Tsui but that’s really two separate stations for East Rail and the Tsuen Wan Line (to be fair, it’s shown quite clearly on MTR maps).

The normal route from East Rail stations to the airport is via Kowloon Tong, Prince Edward, Lai King & Tsing Yi.  That’s one one extra change, but two of them are simple cross-platform interchanges.  It’s also clearly a more direct route. 

MTR to increase Airport Express fares

From Hong Kong Free Press:

MTR Airport Express to increase fares for the first time in its history in June

Hong Kong’s Airport Express MTR line is set to increase fares by 10.3 percent in June – the first fee hike since it came into operation in 1998.

According to a Tuesday Legislative Council document, fares for journeys between the airport and the city proper, paid using an Octopus card, are set to rise by HK$5-HK$10. [..]

The MTR has never adjusted fees for the Airport Express, except in 2000 and 2001 when it cancelled discounts introduced at the time of the line’s opening.

Well, that’s not quite true.  Last year they increased the prices for the group tickets by around 12%, as noted here (Hong Kong not so good–Airport Express).

Sha Tin to Central Link misinformation

More misinformation from the MTR:

“The Sha Tin to Central Link (SCL) is a strategic railway line that stretches from Tai Wai to Admiralty”.  It really isn’t! 


What they are actually doing is linking up the Ma On Shan line and West Rail (through East Kowloon, in brown on the graphic) and extending East Rail from Hung Hom to Admiralty (in blue on the graphic). 

Yeah, OK, I’ve written about this before.