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LCQ21: East Rail Line
     Following is a question by the Hon Luk Chung-hung and a written reply by the Secretary for Transport and Housing, Mr Frank Chan Fan, in the Legislative Council today (November 15):


     The East Rail Line (ERL) is a major means of transport for members of the public to commute between New Territories East and Kowloon, as well as to commute between Hong Kong and the Mainland.  In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(1) whether it knows the average daily (i) passenger patronage and (ii) passenger loading of ERL, in each month since January 2015;

(2) whether it knows if the MTR Corporation Limited (MTRCL) has assessed the number of passengers who originally travel to and from the Mainland by ERL will switch to take the Hong Kong section of the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link (XRL) upon the commissioning of XRL in the third quarter of next year, as well as the impacts of such a situation on the (i) passenger patronage, (ii) operation and (iii) revenue and expenditure of ERL; if MTRCL has made an assessment, of the outcome; if not, the reasons for that;

(3)  as currently the passenger patronage of ERL during peak hours has reached the carrying capacity, whether the authorities will request MTRCL to consider adding, during peak hours, non-stop ERL trains running between the stations in the North and Tai Po Districts (i.e. Sheung Shui, Fanling, Tai Wo and Tai Po Market Stations) and the various stations in Kowloon, for the convenience of the residents in the North and Tai Po Districts; if so, of the details and timetable; if not, the reasons for that; and

(4)  given that the Tai Wai to Hung Hom section of the Shatin to Central Link is expected to be commissioned in 2019 and that the population of New Territories East will continue to grow, whether the authorities have studied if it is necessary to construct a new railway connecting New Territories East and Kowloon, so as to address the transport demand; if such a study has been conducted, of the details; if not, the reasons for that?



     My reply to the various parts of the Hon Luk Chung-hung's question is as follows:
(1)  MTR covers an extensive network of 11 heavy railway lines and 93 stations, including 20 interchange stations.  The MTR Corporation Limited (MTRCL) has all along been reviewing the passenger flow of individual railway lines with the patronage and loading per hour per direction during the morning peak of the critical link.  The patronage and loading per hour per direction of the critical link (i.e. from Tai Wai to Kowloon Tong) of the East Rail Line (ERL) during the morning peak in 2015 and 2016 are in the table below.  The 2017 figures are not available now as more time is required for collating.  As for the average daily patronage and loading for each month as requested in the question, the MTRCL does not prepare its passenger flow statistics in this form and such information is not available. 
  2016 2015
Patronage (passenger trips) 56 800 57 200
Loading (six persons (standing)
per square metre (Note))
66% 66%
Loading (four persons (standing)
per square metre (Note))
93% 93%

(2) The Hong Kong section of the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link (XRL) will be a brand new mode of cross-boundary transport mode to Hong Kong.  The Government is proactively discussing the operational and financial matters with the China Railway Corporation and will announce the arrangement at appropriate time.  We foresee that the commissioning of the XRL may have impact on the patronage of other cross-boundary transport modes (including those making use of the ERL to go to Lo Wu or Lok Ma Chau Station).  However, by enhancing Hong Kong's connectivity with the Mainland, the XRL will boost exchanges between Hong Kong and major Mainland cities and foster the development of complementary advantages.  The actual impact of the XRL on the patronage of other cross-boundary transport modes (including those making use of the ERL to go to Lo Wu or Lok Ma Chau Station) will be carefully examined after its commissioning.
(3) The MTRCL has been striving to boost the carrying capacity and efficiency of the railway network as a whole through various measures such as adjusting train frequency, launching publicity and education programmes for passengers and enhancing passenger flow management at station platform.  As for the ERL, the MTRCL has arranged special trips during morning peak hours to run between Tai Po Market and Hung Hom, as well as between Fo Tan and Hung Hom, so as to divert passenger flow.  Currently, the services provided by the ERL can meet passenger demand on the whole.  As the ERL forms part of the future "North-South Corridor" of the Shatin to Central Link, its signalling system will be upgraded to cater for the increased train frequency.  It is anticipated that after the enhancement of the signalling system, the ERL will be able to increase the train frequency from currently 20 trips per hour to a maximum of 27 trips per hour.  Based on observations on site during the morning peak hours at the Tai Wai Station which lies along the critical link of ERL, most passengers could board the first two trains arriving at the station.  However, due to changes in passenger riding habits during peak hours in recent years, some of the passengers may not be willing to board the first arriving train which may appear crowded but have room still available, and prefer to wait for the next arriving train.
     According to the MTRCL, as with other railway lines, a number of trains are running concurrently on ERL tracks for carrying passengers from different stations.  During peak hours, trains are running at a frequency of just several minutes.  If non-stop trains services between the North District and Kowloon are to be added to ERL during peak hours, this may involve a significant change to the train schedule, affecting the overall train trips and carrying capacity.  As indicated in the reply to part (1) above, the patronage and loading of ERL is already very high during peak hours.  As such, there is practical difficulty in adding non-stop train trips.  The MTRCL will continue to closely monitor the services of the ERL to provide quality service for passengers.
 (4)  The Transport and Housing Bureau (THB) announced the Railway Development Strategy 2014 (RDS-2014) in September 2014.  Having regarded to transport demand, cost-effectiveness and the development needs of New Development Areas and other new development projects, the RDS-2014 recommends that seven new railway projects be completed in the planning horizon up to 2031, including the Northern Link (and Kwu Tung Station).  According to the RDS-2014, one of the functions of the Northern Link is to divert passenger flow of the East Rail Line.  The consultant at that time assessed that the Northern Link can help divert some of the railway traffic from the northeastern New Territories (including that arising from the proposed New Development Areas), bringing about a further redistributive effect.
     The MTRCL submitted the proposal for the Northern Link (and Kwu Tung Station) to the Government in end March 2017.  The Transport and Housing Bureau, the Highways Department and other government departments concerned had immediately begun assessing the contents of the proposal, and required the MTRCL to provide further details and give supplementary information in respect of the proposal to ensure that the proposal is feasible and most beneficial to the community.  Both sides have been discussing the details of the project.  We are now waiting for the MTRCL to consolidate and submit further details on the alignment options, technical feasibility and cost assessment of the project etc. in view of the comments of relevant government departments.
     We aim to consult the public on the railway scheme of the Northern Link (and Kwu Tung Station) in 2018.  In line with established procedures, prior to the finalisation of any new railway scheme, the Government will consult the public, including the Legislative Council and the relevant District Council(s), on the detailed alignment, locations of stations, mode of implementation, cost estimate, mode of financing and actual implementation timetable of the scheme.

     The Development Bureau and Planning Department are conducting the planning study, "Hong Kong 2030+: Towards a Planning Vision and Strategy Transcending 2030" on the longer term planning of Hong Kong.  In accordance with the planning directions of that study, we will implement the "Strategic Studies on Railways and Major Roads beyond 2030".  These studies will take account of the latest planning data of Hong Kong, review the traffic demand of Hong Kong beyond 2031 comprehensively, and study the required strategic transport infrastructure network (including railways and major roads) to satisfy the traffic demand of two Strategic Growth Areas (i.e. East Lantau Metropolis and New Territories North), and to improve the performance of the current major transport corridors (including railways and major roads).  After we obtain the funding approval of the Legislative Council, we will commence the studies at the soonest.

Note: All train compartments of the existing MTR railway lines are designed based on the industry standard design adopted at the time of the construction of railway lines, and the maximum carrying capacity of train compartments is calculated based on an accommodation of up to six persons (standing) per square metre (ppsm) on average.  However, it has been observed that over the years, passenger riding habits have changed.  Nowadays, passengers are less willing to board a train that looks crowded even when there is still room available.  They prefer waiting for the next train.  This in effect reduces the carrying capacity of the trains and the railway line as a whole.  In actual operation, trains running during the busiest hours on the busiest corridors achieve a passenger density of only around four ppsm.
Ends/Wednesday, November 15, 2017
Issued at HKT 16:30
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