The project challenge
Until the 1970s, Hong Kong relied on buses and trams to get its population around the city state. As the economy grew – and traffic congestion increased – Hong Kong authorities saw they needed a more efficient way of moving people around the territory.
A government-commissioned study came up with the idea of a mass transit rail system. The idea was new to the Hong Kong public - and faced fierce opposition.
Negative responses included claims that the existing tram system was adequate – and that only dead people would go underground.
City authorities pressed ahead with the plan – setting up the government-owned Mass Transit Railway Corporation (MTRC) to build and manage the railway. Work started on the scheme in 1975.
The 15.6km-long mass transit railway (MTR) opened in 1980. With 15 stations, it ran from Charter station on Hong Kong island to Kwun Tong station on the mainland.
The scheme was an immediate success – leading to the MTR being extended in following years. The railway now covers 212km and has 159 stations on 11 lines. It serves urban areas in Hong Kong island, Kowloon and the New Territories.
The network is one of the most profitable MTR systems in the world. It also claims to be one of the most reliable, with 99.9% of its trains arriving on time.
More than 5m journeys are made on the Hong Kong MTR every day.
Hong Kong Mass Transit Railway
Ir Thomas S K Lai (former Executive Manager of Mass Transit Railway Corporation Ltd) tells us about how the Mass Transit Railway came to be and the positive impact it's had on Hong Kong.
Did you know …
The MTR has a dedicated 3.5km-long line to get tourists to the Hong Kong Disneyland Resort.
The route has only two stops. It runs from Sunny Bay – a station built on reclaimed land - to Disneyland Resort station on Lantau Island.
The line’s train carriages feature Mickey Mouse-shaped windows and bronze figurines of Disney characters, including Jiminy Cricket and Donald Duck.
Difference the project has made
With over 5m trips on the MTR every day, the network is now the most common means of transport in Hong Kong.
The scheme is credited with cutting congestion on Hong Kong’s roads – as well as reducing air pollution from private vehicles.
The MTR has become a model for new urban transit systems around the world – particularly in China
How the work was done
Current expansion work on the Hong Kong MTR includes the Sha Tin to Central link (SCL).
SCL phase 1 will run from Tai Wai station in the New Territories to Hung Hom station in Kowloon. Phase 2 will extend the line under Hong Kong’s harbour from Hung Hom to Admiralty station on Hong Kong island.
As the SCL cuts across urban areas, most of the construction work is being done underground. Engineers are planning or building rail tunnels, pedestrian subways and stations for the scheme.
The project team uses tunnel boring machines (TBMs) or explosives to dig the route, depending on the geology of the ground they’re excavating.
TBMs are mostly large and cylinder-shaped. A rotating cutterhead at the front of the unit digs out earth, which is then transported back behind the machine by a moving conveyor belt.
Work on phase 1 of the scheme started in 2012. Some sections are planned to open by 2019.