MTR will shorten six of its East Rail Line trains from 12 carriages to nine from Sunday, while still dedicating one whole carriage to more expensive first class seats, giving a 33% increase in the share of first class space on those trains.
The rail operator is rolling out the new trains ahead of the Shatin-Central Link (SCL) opening, with existing 12-car trains too long for Hong Kong Island infrastructure.
First class costs more than double standard class: Hung Hom to Lok Ma Chau costs $82 first class against the standard $39 Octopus fare.
The new trains, which are wider but which have 20% lower capacity overall, will be phased in gradually ahead of the SCL opening, says MTR.
Overcrowding on the line has been a perennial problem for MTR, with studies in 2014 finding each passenger had barely 2.7 sq ft of space at rush hour.
But MTR has repeatedly said new signalling systems and advanced train management will alleviate crowding problems. A consultant with knowledge of the technology said the new signalling system should allow as many as 30 nine-car trains per hour, if not more, against 24 of the 12-car trains per hour at present.
That signalling system was delayed on safety concerns which MTR says have now been addressed.