New trains arriving in Hong Kong for the East Rail Line extension project: the service has cut train lengths from 12 cars to 9 cars

MTR has wildly exaggerated how many people can fit on its East Rail Line trains, according to lawmaker Michael Tien Puk-sun, who said the East Rail Line will be pushed over its design capacity as soon as the Covid pandemic is over.

Lawmaker Michael Tien, a former railway chairman, says MTR’s estimates of train capacity are “baloney”

Talking to RTHK Radio 3’s Backchat show this morning, the New Territories North West lawmaker said MTR’s claims that each East Rail Line 9-car train could carry 2,800 passengers was “a lot of baloney”, with his estimate nearer 2,000 per train.

“[2,800] is the design loading maximum capacity. If you put more than that on the train, the structure is going to be damaged. Plus they have one of the nine cars as first class – so the realistic limit is about 2,000 passengers per train,” he said.

Tien, a former chairman of the Kowloon-Canton Railway (KCR), said this put an absolute ceiling “for ever and ever” of 60,000 passengers per hour on the East Rail Line, given that the new signalling system allows a maximum of around 30 trains per hour.

“Basically if we ever get out of Covid, we are already at maximum capacity,” he said.

MTR insiders said the actual capacity of the new signalling system is 34 trains per hour, or 32 with a safety margin, not 30 as bandied around by government papers, which would mean Tien’s estimate is slightly pessimistic – but even at 32 trains per hour, using Tien’s train capacity estimates still leaves the service with very little room for growth.

And Tien added that new cross-harbour bus passengers will further stress the system, with around 12,000 passengers per day expected to swap from long-haul buses to the new Admiralty-bound service.

Indeed, Transport Department (TD) has already proposed axing one cross-harbour bus route and cutting service on eight bus routes, including the 101 and 104 long-haul buses, when the new East Rail Line extension opens on 15 May.

The government and MTR say overcrowding will not be a problem.

According to officials, about 30% of the East Rail Line southbound passengers already switched to the new Tuen Ma Line for destinations in East Kowloon, higher than the 18% forecast.

“This brought significant diversion effect on […] southbound trains, and had relieved the congestion of the busiest section of the East Rail Line in the past (i.e. from Tai Wai Station to Kowloon Tong Station),” said Secretary for Housing and transport Frank Chan Fan in response to a question from lawmaker Tony Tse earlier this year.

The government says the East Rail Line reached 73% of its existing carrying capacity in 2019, based on four passengers per square metre. By the same measure, the Island Line was at 81%, the Kwun Tong Line at 87% and the Tsuen Wan Line 93%.

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