East Rail Line

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East Rail Line
Type Heavy rail
System MTR
Locale Districts: Yau Tsim Mong, Sham Shui Po, Kowloon City, Sha Tin, Tai Po, North, Yuen Long
Stations 14
Ridership 1,022,000 daily passenger journeys (2012)[1]
Opening 1910
Track gauge 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in)
Electrification 25 kV AC 50 Hz
Route map
East Rail Line.svg
 Guangshen railway 
 Shenzhen Metro Line 4 
 Shenzhen Metro Line 1 
Luohu(SZ Metro Line 1)
Futian Checkpoint(SZ Metro Line 4)
Hong Kong / China border
Lok Ma Chau
Lo Wu
Chau Tau
Lo Wu Marshaling Yard
Kwu Tung
Sheung Shui
Tai Wo
Hong Kong Railway Museum
Tai Po Market
Tunnel No.5
Science Park
Ho Tung Lau Depot
Racecourse(Racing days only)
Fo Tan Goods Yard
Fo Tan
Sha Tin
 Ma On Shan Line to Wu Kai Sha 
Tai Wai
 Sha Tin to Central Link to Tuen Mun 
Beacon Hill Tunnel (Tunnel No. 2)
Kowloon Tong
 Kwun Tong Line to Yau Ma Tei 
 to Tiu Keng Leng 
Mong Kok East
Future relocation for SCL
 Sha Tin to Central Link to Wu Kai Sha 
Tunnel No. 1A
Hung Hom (Through Train terminus)
 West Rail Line to Tuen Mun 
Victoria Harbour
 Tsuen Wan Line to Tsuen Wan 
 Island Line to Chai Wan 
 Island Line to Sheung Wan 
 Tsuen Wan Line to Central 
East Rail Line
Traditional Chinese 東鐵綫
Simplified Chinese 东铁线
Interior of a refurbished Metro Cammell EMU
Sha Tin Station platform
Hung Hom Station, interchange station for the West Rail Line

The East Rail Line (Chinese: 東鐵綫) is the first, and one of ten railway lines of the Mass Transit Railway (MTR) system in Hong Kong. It used to be one of the three lines of the Kowloon–Canton Railway (KCR) network. It was known as the KCR British Section (九廣鐵路英段) from 1910 to 1996,[2] and the KCR East Rail (九廣東鐵) from 1996 to 2007.

The railway line starts at Hung Hom Station in Kowloon and branches in the north at Sheung Shui to terminate at Lo Wu or Lok Ma Chau stations. Both are boundary crossing points into Shenzhen. It was the only railway line of the Kowloon-Canton Railway Corporation (KCRC) before the construction of KCR West Rail (now known as West Rail Line).

The same railway is used for passenger and freight services crossing the boundary to other cities, including Guangzhou, Shanghai and Beijing. These longer distance passenger services (dubbed "Through Trains") start at Hung Hom and end at their termini in the mainland. The line is generally double tracked and electrified, except for certain goods sheds. Immigration and customs facilities are available at Hung Hom (for Through Train passengers) and Lo Wu/Lok Ma Chau (for border interchange passengers) stations.

The railway line was operated by Kowloon-Canton Railway Corporation (KCRC) prior to the MTR-KCR merger and has since been taken over by MTR Corporation on 2 December 2007 after the merger was completed.

The line is coloured light blue on the MTR map. The distance between Hung Hom and Lo Wu stations is 34 km (21 mi).[3] The total distance of the line (including the Lok Ma Chau Spur Line) is approximately 41 km, and is currently the longest line in total distance within the system network.


Pre-electrification era[edit]

The railway line to the Chinese border, then called the Kowloon-Canton Railway (British Section), opened for passenger services on 1 October 1910. The remaining section from Lo Wu to Canton (now Guangzhou) was called the "Chinese Section" (now the Guangzhou-Shenzhen Railway). Initially, service was only provided from Yau Ma Tei station to Fanling station with a tunnel through Beacon Hill.[citation needed]

After the "Chinese Section" was completed, through train service became available to Canton, through Sham Chun (now Shenzhen). Lo Wu station also serves as a border crossing, with a bridge across the Sham Chun River, the natural border between Hong Kong and China. Trains had to stop at Lo Wu station after Communist China closed the border and suspended the through train service in 1949.

The line was generally single track, with a passing loop at each station.

The line was originally built with narrow gauge tracks, but just before opening standard gauge track was laid and the original tracks were used to build a branch line, the Sha Tau Kok Railway from Fanling to Sha Tau Kok. This branch was unsuccessful and closed on 1 April 1928 following the opening of a road that ran parallel to the tracks.

Through the years, more stations continued to be added to the line. Sheung Shui station was opened in the 1930s, and Ma Liu Shui (now University) station opened in 1955.

The development of the towns along the line began to grow immensely during the 1970s, prompting a modernisation of the Kowloon-Canton Railway. The original Kowloon station terminus at Tsim Sha Tsui was too small and had no room for expansion, so a new terminus site was chosen in Hung Hom, then known as Kowloon station. The new Kowloon station replaced the old one in 1975. Today, the clock tower is the only structure left from the old terminus, and is a landmark near the Cultural Centre, Space Museum and the Star Ferry pier. Some six pillars were relocated to the Urban Council Centenary Garden in Tsim Sha Tsui East. A big bell is stored at Ho Tung Lau. The original Hung Hom station at Chatham Road South was also demolished.

Post-1980s modernisation[edit]

The line was entirely duplicated and electrified. This work involved building a new tunnel through Beacon Hill and providing an interchange with the original MTR network at Kowloon Tong. The development finished in sections between 1982 and 1983, with new electric multiple units, manufactured by Metro Cammell, replacing diesel locomotives. During the electrification, more stations were added to the line. Tai Po Kau station and the original Tai Po Market station were closed, with the latter being redeveloped into the Hong Kong Railway Museum.

The 1990s saw more rapid development and changes within the railway. The KCRC signed a contract with giant French manufacturer GEC-Alstom to be in charge of a refurbishment of the Metro Cammell EMUs at its depot at Ho Tung Lau. In 1996, the first refurbished train was put into service, and trains now allow passengers to traverse from one end to another (except for the first class carriage), when trains once ran on four three-car EMUs. 348 of the 351 railcars were refurbished except for unit E44 (144-244-444), of which #144 was preserved at the Hong Kong Railway Museum. Each trainset is still made up of 12 cars (with one first-class car). Prior to the rule proclaimed in 1994 which fixed the number of cars on each trainset to 12, trains were inconsistent in terms of length, ranging from six cars (two EMUs), nine cars (three EMUs) to 12 cars (four EMUs).

In terms of appearance, trains no longer have the monotonous design of having a red stripe running across the middle from the cab to the end; the doors now have a red coating, and the window panes along with the upper part are fashioned with blue paint. The original design of the train front, encapsulating the driver's cab and commonly referred to as the "Yellow-cab", was replaced with a more modern design capped with a silver coating, and a digital display added providing the train's destination.

The design of the EMU was modified as well: four more sets of doors being added to each car, adding up to a total of ten sets of doors, each side with five; the introduction of new passenger information plasma display; and more standing space by rearranging seating patterns from the traditional back-to-back seating to a longitudinal design.

An Automatic Train Protection (ATP) system came into operation on the line in 1998 to ensure a safe distance is maintained between trains. It also allowed an increase in train frequencies from 20 to 24 per hour each way. The control centre was also relocated from Kowloon Station to a new facility in the KCRC operations headquarters building at Fo Tan Railway House.[4] Also as part of the ATP project, a two kilometre section of the tracks near the Pak Shek Kok reclamation, curving around the former coastline, was straightened out during the mid-1990s. The tracks now run alongside the Tolo Highway.[5] A vestige of the former alignment, an old bridge beside Cheung Shue Tan village built between 1906 and 1909, was identified by the Antiquities and Monuments Office in 2008 as a historic asset.[6]

In 2002 an automatic train operation (ATO) system was added, which controls the speed of the train for the driver and ensures that all trains will stop when arriving at every station. Under normal circumstances, most trains are operated in ATO mode except for scenarios such as operation of trains in and out of train depots, driver training, or at times when the ATO system fails to function properly.[7]

Recent developments[edit]


Tunnels on the East Rail Line have numbers assigned to them. When the railway was first opened, there were five tunnels:[8]

  1. North of today's Mong Kok East Station
  2. Beacon Hill Tunnel
  3. South of where University Station stands today
  4. North of the station
  5. At Tai Po Kau

During the construction of the Cross Harbour Tunnel, which opened in 1972, the section of tracks near Oi Man Estate, Ho Man Tin was covered to construct the section of Princess Margaret Road connecting to the Cross Harbour Tunnel. A new tunnel was therefore created and given the number 1A.

During the modernisation of the line in the early 1980s, Tunnels 1, 3, 4 were removed by demolishing the mounds above them. Tunnel 1A already had double track width when built; a completely new Beacon Hill Tunnel (Tunnel 2) was constructed and took over the original one; and Tunnel 5 was doubled. The new one is known as Tunnel 5A.

Rolling stock[edit]

Currently there are two types of commuter trains running on the East Rail Line. In 2003, the 29 sets of the aforementioned Metro Cammell EMU were joined with 8 sets of SP1900 EMU trains, manufactured by the Japan-based Kinki Sharyo Co., Ltd.. Both models share same exterior color scheme, door arrangement (5-pair per car except first class), as well as consisting of 12 carriages per train including a first class section. The interior design between the two models is different, and the transverse seating near the ends of the Metro Cammell carriages has been replaced with longitudinal seating in the Kinki Sharyo models to allow for a wider gangway between compartments. All of the East Rail Line Metro Cammell trains are maintained at MTR Ho Tung Lau Depot in Sha Tin District. Some of the SP1900 EMU are being maintained at MTR Pat Heung Depot of the West Rail Line after the opening of Kowloon Southern Link.

In December 2012, the MTR decided to phase out all Metro Cammell trains by 2019 and ordered 37 sets of 9 car MTR K-Stock trains built by Rotem in South Korea. The new trains will have slight modifications compared to the K-Stock operating on the Tung Chung Line. Trains would arrive in Hong Kong in 2015 where preliminary testing would start and trains would start operations in 2019, in time for the opening of the Hung Hom to Admiralty Section of the Sha Tin to Central Link.[9]

First class[edit]

First Class area in 3rd Generation rolling stock built by Kinki Sharyo of Japan, on KCR East Rail

East Rail Line is the only railway in Hong Kong to offer first class commuter service. One of the 12 cars of each train is furbished as a first class carriage. These compartments have softer and wider seat arrangements; however, standing in the first class car is common during rush hour.

Riding on this carriage costs twice that of a standard-class journey and passengers are required to buy the first class ticket (at the vending machine on East Rail line stations or ticket counters at the other stations) or second check their Octopus cards on the first class reader (located at the station platforms and beside the gangway door of the First class compartment itself) before entering the first-class car. Ticket Inspectors will perform random checks on train, and failing to produce a valid first class ticket or valiated Octopus Card will be liable to a surcharge of HK$500.[10]

Safety problems[edit]

Train accidents[edit]

On 25 November 1984, a train derailed between Sheung Shui and Lo Wu station. The incident occurred when the driver, preparing to back the train up to Sheung Shui station, failed to follow a speed/stop signal while the train was exceeding the speed limit. The train crashed into a boulder buffer with the first two cars piling on top of each other. The degree of damage was so extensive that the cars never returned to service. Passengers were unloaded prior to the crash while the driver sustained only minor injuries. However, the accident caused train services to be suspended for the rest of the day and the incident spurred a series of public outcries concerning railway safety.

Underframe cracking[edit]

On 21 December 2005, an East Rail Line Metro Cammell EMU failed while in operation. Following examination of the train, KCRC staff detected minor cracks in the welding of mounting brackets for some underframe components. A review panel commissioned by KCRC looked into the problem from four aspects:[11]

  • the rate of change of the acceleration and deceleration of trains
  • the welding of components' mounting brackets
  • the profile of the track and train wheels
  • suspension system

Since the full introduction of automatic train operation (ATO) on the East Rail system in 2003, the rate of change of acceleration and deceleration resulting from ATO driving added stress to the underframe components. To allow a root cause investigation to be carried out, the use of the ATO system was suspended on 15 January 2006, leaving the operation of trains back in the hands of the train drivers, the safety of train operation under the control of the Automatic Train Protection system.[7] This resulted in a decreased frequency (from 24 to 23 trains per hour) and lengthened trip time (increase by 90 seconds to 42.5 minutes).[11] KCRC also temporarily transferred some staff from West Rail Line to cope with recent maintenance of trains.

The Environment, Transport and Works Bureau reprimanded the KCRC for not immediately notifying the Government when it found problems with its East Rail trains in 2005. Secretary for the Bureau Dr. Sarah Liao said she had ordered the KCRC to inspect all its trains, and did not rule out suspending services if there were safety doubts. Dr. Liao ordered the chairman to review the corporation's operations, including its management and overall system, and submit a report. KCRC chairman Michael Tien accepted responsibility for the corporation's poor judgement in not sharing the information with the public in a timely matter.

On 21 January 2006, Michael Tien stated that the safety problems of East Rail had been controlled, and the train service was expected to operate as usual, including train service in the Chinese New Year. KCRC East Rail trains reverted to the ATO operation on 6 August 2006, after the investigation confirmed that the ATO system was not a direct cause of the cracking.[7]

Platform gaps[edit]

The platform gap at several stations (Lo Wu, Tai Wo, University, Kowloon Tong, and Mong Kok East) may be a safety concern. The KCRC has visually marked the "Gap Black Spots" on the platforms of those stations and stated that plates will be installed in the gap between the train and station. The platform gap is mainly caused by the curvature of the station and how the train enters the station area. A mechanical gap filler system, which extends the platform edge when a train is stopped at the station, has been authorised at Lo Wu station on a trial basis.[12]


All the station platforms on the East Rail Line are on/above ground and open air. Lo Wu and Lok Ma Chau are within the Frontier Closed Area and cannot be entered by anyone without a permit or a passport and visa to Mainland China. In May 2008, MTR announced plans to renew many stations, most of which have been in service for over half a century. Refurbishment is not expected to be fully completed until 2016 at the earliest.[13] The stations providing local commuter service on this line are listed blow:

Livery and Name District Connections Opened
East Rail Line
Hung Hom
formerly Kowloon
Yau Tsim Mong/
Kowloon City
 West Rail Line
Intercity services outside of Hong Kong.
30 November 1975
Mong Kok East
formerly Yaumati,
Mong Kok
Nil 1 opened 1910,
relocated 1968
Kowloon Tong Sham Shui Po/
Kowloon City
 Kwun Tong Line 4 May 1982
Tai Wai Sha Tin  Ma On Shan Line 15 August 1983,
relocated 1986
Sha Tin   1 October 1910
Fo Tan2 15 February 1985
Racecourse2 1 October 1983
formerly Ma Liu Shui
24 September 1956
Science Park*
Tai Po
Tai Po Market opened 1910,
relocated 1983
Tai Wo 9 May 1989
Fanling North 1 October 1910
Sheung Shui 1930
Lo Wu Luohu Station for Line 1 of the Shenzhen Metro
(through border check)
14 October 1949
Kwu Tung^ 3  
Chau Tau^ 3 Northern Link
Yuen Long
Lok Ma Chau3 Futian Checkpoint Station for Line 4 of the Shenzhen Metro
(through border check)
15 August 2007

* Proposed
# Under construction
^ Planning in progress

1 Mong Kok East Station and Mong Kok Station ( Tsuen Wan Line and  Kwun Tong Line), are not interconnected stations. There is pedestrian transfer by a footbridge, the journey time is approx. 10–15 minutes on foot.
2 Fo Tan and Racecourse are parallel stations. Racecourse Station is only open when horseracing or a special event is held at Sha Tin Racecourse.
3 Kwu Tung, Chau Tau and Lok Ma Chau are stations on the Lok Ma Chau Spur Line, a branch from Sheung Shui Station of the  East Rail Line, with solely the latter constructed.

There are long distances between University and Tai Po Market Stations, between Tai Wo and Fanling Stations, and between Sheung Shui and Lok Ma Chau Stations, and there are no intermediate stations within these sections. These sections of tracks serve nearby the Science Park, Tai Po Kau Village, Hong Lok Yuen, Kau Lung Hang Village, and the Kwu Tung village. However, intermediate stations within some sections of the track are under planning.

Train service[edit]

East Rail Line operates train services every 4 minutes during Mondays to Fridays from 05:00 to 01:00 next day. However, Lo Wu and Lok Ma Chau stations will close at approximately 23:30 and 21:30 respectively, which means that trains will stop service at Sheung Shui after both border checkpoints close. During peak hours, trains are more frequent, reduced to every 2-3 minutes.

Special train departures[edit]

Some train trips may not be scheduled to depart in the usual way. For example, trains may pass through Racecourse station, stop service at intermediate stations and/or enter the Ho Tung Lau Depot. These special services usually take place during morning peak hours on weekdays and Saturdays.

Examples of special train services:

  • Northbound trains may terminate at Fo Tan or Tai Po Market station, which usually takes place during morning peak hours.
  • Northbound trains may terminate at Sha Tin station in order to enter the Ho Tung Lau Depot.
  • Northbound trains will terminate at Sheung Shui station after Lo Wu/Lok Ma Chau border crossings close.
  • Trains may pass through Racecourse station, during racing days.
  • Trains passing through Racecourse station may stop service at the following stations: Lo Wu, Lok Ma Chau, Tai Po Market, Racecourse
  • Southbound trains may terminate at Mong Kok East station.

Future development[edit]

The Northern Link will go from Kam Sheung Road Station to Lok Ma Chau Station, and to Sheung Shui Station via Chau Tau Station.

In the latest Sha Tin to Central Link proposal, the East Rail Line will extend southwards across the Victoria Harbour, and have two more stations on Hong Kong Island: Exhibition and Admiralty. Construction is presently underway.


  1. ^ "LCQ6 Annex II - Services of MTR East Rail Line and Ma On Shan Line and KMB in North District: Patronage and Train Loading of the MTR East Rail Line and Ma On Shan Line in the Past Five Years". HKSAR Government. 20 February 2013. Retrieved 10 February 2014. 
  2. ^ (18-10-1990)香港電台-鏗鏘集(電氣化火車 – Part 1)http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=47_HSVoC9Ws
  3. ^ Centamap
  4. ^ "Hong Kong Mass Transit – Urban Transport Technology". www.urbantransport-technology.com. Retrieved 2010-12-23. 
  5. ^ "KCRC - ATP Project Contract No.4 Civil and Trackwork". Build King Holdings Limited. Retrieved 1 April 2014. 
  6. ^ Wu, Helen (28 January 2008). "Heritage sites recognised but remain ungraded". South China Morning Post. Retrieved 1 April 2014. 
  7. ^ a b c "Automatic Train Operation (ATO) of East Rail trains". Legislative Council Panel on Transport Subcommittee on Matters Relating to Railways. Kowloon-Canton Railway Corporation. May 2007. Retrieved 2010-12-23. 
  8. ^ 鐵路知識問與答99題 (in Chinese). SoftRepublic. 31 July 2008. p. 193. ISBN 978-988-17-1584-5. 
  9. ^ http://www.mtr.com.hk/eng/corporate/file_rep/PR-12-105-E.pdf
  10. ^ Travelling First Class, MTR official site, read 2011-01-14
  11. ^ a b "KCREast Rail Train Incident on 21 December". Legislative Council Panel on Transport Subcommittee on matters relating to railways Special Meeting on 18 January 2006. Kowloon-Canton Railway Corporation. January 2006. Retrieved 2010-12-23. 
  12. ^ Legislative Council Panel on Transport Subcommittee on Matters Relating to Railways, April 2007
  13. ^ Press Release 0848 MTR Corporation (Chinese)

External links[edit]