The new East Rail Line extension will open on 15 May

Admiralty Station will be upgraded to a “super-interchange” as East Rail Line trains start rolling under Victoria Harbour for the first time on Sunday 15 May.

Passengers will be able to travel 46 km from border town Sheung Shui in the New Territories all the way to the Admiralty Terminus without changing trains and in about 40 minutes. Four lines – Tsuen Wan, Island, South Island and East Rail – will meet at the station.

Frank Chan Fan, Secretary for Transport and Housing, told reporters today passengers would be able to travel from Hung Hom to Admiralty in just seven minutes, 12 minutes faster than current routes and with no train change required.

Exhibition Station in north Wan Chai will connect the convention centre and Star Ferry area to thde MTR network

And a new station, Exhibition Station, could give north Wan Chai and the Star Ferry a transport boost, with Chan pledging to boost other public transport in the area. MTR is offering a 35% “early bird” discount at the station and a $2 discount on franchised buses from the Exhibition interchange.

The East Rail Line will also be the first to offer first class carriages on Hong Kong Island. With shorter trains, the premium service now makes up 11% of each 9-car East Rail Line train, against 8% before the extension project.

On the issue of overcrowding, with many noting East Rail Line is already at capacity since cutting from 12-car to 9-car trains, Chan said “short-distance trains” will be mobilised to clear crowded platforms, a model he says he had personally witnessed.

“I also take the railway from time to time,” he said. “For example, when I get off work from Admiralty Station to Kowloon […] I have to wait for two or three trains, but after about two or three trains, I will have a space. When an empty train arrives at Admiralty, the whole platform could be cleared.”

The government had previously said the 9-car trains, in conjunction with the new signalling system, could offer a greater passenger carrying capacity. Trains, in theory, could run every two minutes, giving the line a capacity of 85,350 passengers per hour compared to 75,000 per hour with the 12-car trains on the old signalling system.

According to Chan, passenger behaviour has shifted during the pandemic: for example, the original design for the Tuen Ma Line expected around 18% of passengers to shift to the Kwun Tong Line, but in fact, Chan says, around 30% have shifted.

“We expect the passenger capacity of the entire East Rail Line will be sufficient,” he said.

Displays at Admiralty will show passengers the fastest way across the harbour

MTR says its new weight-based “Train Car Loading Indicator” will be provided on all East Rail Line platforms while a brand-new “Cross-Harbour Easy” display showing real time platform conditions will be launched in Admiralty Station for passengers to choose their cross-harbour routes.

Chan also said the historical fare gaps between the cross-border services and local services would be “gradually narrowed”, with the government prepared to offer MTR “some flexibility” in its annual fare adjustment. Fares for the cross-harbour extension will be the same as three other cross-harbour railway lines, says MTR, while the minimum fare for any cross-harbour journey is $10.1.

The concept of a “Shatin to Central link” was first proposed in 2002, with today’s configuration put forward by MTR in 2008. Work started in 2012 and has been plagued with safety issues, signalling problems and cost overruns.

On safety and security issues, Chan said the extension had been approved by Fire Services Department, the Environmental Protection Department, the Electrical & Mechanical Services Department and the Highways Department.

“I am sure that Hong Kong’s railway is one of the best across the globe and there is no doubt that we have confidence that the new East Rail Line Cross-Harbour Extension will operate very smoothly in due course.”

The line will open fully on Sunday 15 May, while Exhibition Station will hold an open day in 9 May, showcasing new artwork and the casing of a World War II bomb found during the construction of the station. Tickets for the open day will be available free through the MTR app from 5 May.

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