LCQ12: Train services of MTR West Rail Line and Light Rail

     Following is a question by the Hon Leung Che-cheung and a written reply by the Secretary for Transport and Housing, Professor Anthony Cheung Bing-leung, in the Legislative Council today (July 17):


     Many residents in North West New Territories have relayed to me their dissatisfaction with the train services of the MTR West Rail Line (WRL) and the Light Rail (LR). In this connection, will the Government inform this Council if it knows:

(a) given that some residents have pointed out that the train frequency of WRL during night-time cannot meet the demand, resulting in passengers at the intermediate stations often finding it difficult to board the first arriving train heading towards Tuen Mun, the respective starting and ending time of the peak and off-peak hours for train services of WRL; the average patronage and the carrying capacity of the trains of various time slots;

(b) given that the trains of WRL currently run at a frequency of approximately six to seven minutes during off-peak hours, whether the MTR Corporation Limited (MTRCL) will increase the train frequency of that time slot; if MTRCL will not, the circumstances under which the train frequency will be increased;

(c) given that some residents have relayed that the demand for train services in districts along WRL continues to rise, whether MTRCL will consider increasing the number of train cars of WRL from seven to nine which is the original design standard; if MTRCL will not, the circumstances under which the number of train cars will be increased;

(d) the respective starting and ending time of the peak and off-peak hours for services of various LR routes at present; the average patronage and the carrying capacity of the trains of various time slots; the details of operating various LR routes with single-carriage or two-carriage trains;

(e) as the new fare table issued by MTRCL shows that starting from June 30 this year, the Single Journey fares are lower than their corresponding Octopus fares for more than 1 300 fare combinations of LR, with differences ranging from $0.1 to $0.5, the causes for such differences; whether there is any solution and its implementation timetable; and

(f) as LR is the main mode of transport providing connection for passengers of WRL to and from various locations in North West New Territories, but the last train-departure time of certain LR routes cannot cater for the needs of passengers of the last train of WRL, the details of these LR routes and the causes for this situation; whether MTRCL will consider extending the service hours of the relevant routes?


     Currently, the MTR Corporation Limited (MTRCL) has already taken passengers' travelling patterns and patronage of different areas and stations into consideration when drawing up the service timetable for each railway line. This is to ensure that railway service meets passengers' demand. As observed, railway service in general can meet passengers' demand, and most passengers are able to board the first arriving train.

     My reply to the Hon Leung Che-cheung's question is as follows:

(a) to (c) MTRCL has all along been closely monitoring the service level and passengers' demand of West Rail Line (WRL). WRL patronage is higher during the climax of peak hours, but generally it can still cope with passengers' need. In 2012, the carrying capacities per hour in one direction during morning and evening peak hours are 46,900 and 40,100 passenger trips respectively. The average train loading during morning peak hours on weekdays (from 6.30am to 9am) is around 70%, while that of the evening peak hours on weekdays (from 4.30pm to 7.30pm) is around 56%. The current loading can cope with passengers' need.

     MTRCL is dedicated to providing safe, comfortable and efficient train services for passengers. The train service enhancements under the "ListeningĦEResponding" programme in 2012 brought the total number of additional train trips a year to around 62,000, with an increase of 150 million passenger trips in carrying capacity. For WRL, the train trips have increased by 188 weekly from 2,963 to 3,151 since late August last year. Currently, the train frequency during morning peak hours on weekdays is 3 minutes; train frequency during evening peak hours on weekdays has been enhanced from 4 minutes to 3.5 minutes. Train frequency during non-peak hours has also been enhanced from 6 to 9 minutes to 6 to 7 minutes.  

     Besides, MTRCL has also commenced the Shatin-to-Central Link project. When its Tai Wai to Hung Hom Section is in service in 2018, the existing Ma On Shan Line will connect with WRL via East Kowloon to form the "East West Corridor". After the commissioning of the "East West Corridor", the number of train compartments of WRL will gradually increase from 7 to 8. By then, the entire carrying capacity of WRL can be further enhanced.

(d) As the Light Rail adopts an open design, there may be Light Rail vehicles (LRVs) of more than one route calling at the same stop. There is therefore no information on which route a passenger will take after he/she purchases a ticket or validates his/her Octopus card at a stop. The train loading figures of the Light Rail are obtained through observation surveys conducted by MTRCL. In 2012, the average train loading during morning peak hours (from 7am to 8am) for Light Rail is around 85%.  MTRCL did not conduct surveys for the train loading during non-peak hours. The hourly carrying capacity and arrangement of single or coupled-set LRVs of each Light Rail route are at Annex.

(e) There are two fare charts in the Light Rail fare system. Octopus fares are divided into 8 levels (after the fare adjustment on June 30, 2013, adult Octopus fares range from $4.1 to $6.5; concessionary fares range from $2 to $3.2) and calculated depending on the number of stops passed-by.  Single Journey Ticket fares are calculated based on zones, and there are 3 levels of fare among 6 fare-zones (adult fares are $4.5, $5.5 and $6.5; concessionary fares are $2, $2.5 and $3). As the two fare charts are totally different, there are circumstances where the Single Journey Ticket fare is lower than the Octopus fare. MTRCL will look into a solution to deal with this problem in the long term.

     In calculating individual fares, MTRCL has all along applied the following guiding principles:

(1) adjustments to Octopus fares are in units of 10 cents; and

(2) adjustments to Single Journey Ticket fares are in units of 50 cents (as MTR Ticket Issuing Machines accept coins with value of 50 cents, 1 dollar, 2 dollars, 5 dollars and 10 dollars).

     MTRCL advised that due to the differences in the units of adjustment to Octopus fares and Single Journey Ticket fares, the percentage increase of some Single Journey Ticket fares (most of which are Elderly or Child Concessionary Single Journey Tickets) would be quite high with a 50 cents adjustment when the above principles are applied in the calculation of individual fares.  Thus, MTRCL often decided not to adjust these Single Journey Ticket fares.  

     However, such arrangement has created a phenomenon that some Octopus fares are higher than the corresponding Single Journey Ticket fares. The Government has expressed its concerns over these cases to MTRCL. In response, MTRCL advised that it would proactively follow up. It further pointed out that if the Single Journey Ticket fares were adjusted to a level higher than the Octopus fares in one go, the increase rate might be too high and the public might not accept.

     MTRCL has made improvement on this aspect during the fare adjustment this year. The number of these cases in Light Rail dropped by 47% from 1,276 to 672. MTRCL plans to gradually remove the situation where Octopus fares are higher than the corresponding Single Journey Ticket fares starting from this year and in the coming few years.

(f) To ensure train safety and reliability, a series of maintenance repair and inspection works for Light Rail have to take place every night after the last train departs up to around 5am the next morning before the train service commences. This is to ensure that the equipment is in normal operation. Therefore, maintenance staff has to complete works within 2 to 3 hours every night. Further extending the service hours of Light Rail will affect such maintenance works, which may affect the operation safety of Light Rail. MTRCL has tried its best to balance passengers' need and the maintenance repair works of Light Rail. Nevertheless, the Government will continue to urge MTRCL to look into the service hours of Light Rail, or suggest other viable alternatives, to synchronise with the last train of WRL. At the same time, the Government will also look into if other public transportation modes may collaborate accordingly.

Ends/Wednesday, July 17, 2013
Issued at HKT 12:00