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LCQ1: Crowdedness in MTR train compartments

     Following is a question by the Hon Starry Lee and a reply by the Secretary for Transport and Housing, Professor Anthony Cheung Bing-leung, in the Legislative Council today (March 19):


     According to a paper submitted by the Transport and Housing Bureau to the Subcommittee on Matters Relating to Railways under the Panel on Transport of this Council, the busy sections of the Tseung Kwan O Line, East Rail Line (ERL), West Rail Line (WRL), Tsuen Wan Line, Island Line and Kwun Tong Line have been loaded with passengers to capacity or are close to that during the morning peak hours, based on the actual passenger density level of 4 persons (standing) per square metre. Regarding alleviation of the crowdedness in MTR train compartments, will the Government inform this Council:

(1) whether the authorities will take measures (such as requesting the MTR Corporation Limited to modify its fare structure, making use of other modes of public transport for diversion of passengers and setting up shopping areas near the boundary) to alleviate the passenger loading of the railways; if they will, of the details and the implementation timetable; if not, the reasons for that;

(2) as ERL has already been loaded with passengers to capacity during peak hours but the project of North East New Territories New Development Areas (NDA) will increase the population to be served by ERL, and the carrying capacity of ERL will be reduced by the replacement of the current 12-car trains by 9-car trains upon the full commissioning of the Shatin to Central Link (SCL), of the plans of the authorities to alleviate the crowdedness in the train compartments of ERL; and

(3) whether it has assessed the impact of the commissioning of SCL, the South Island Line and the West Island Line on the patronage of MTR, as well as the number of ERL passengers to be generated by the additional population upon the completion of the relevant items of the NDA project; if it has, of the details; if not, the reasons for that; whether it has plans to accelerate the development of the Northern Link so as to divert some ERL passengers to WRL; if it has, of the details; if not, the reasons for that?


     Both the Government and the MTR Corporation Limited (MTRCL) understand the community's concern on the rather high train loading situation on some busy railway lines during peak hours. MTRCL will respond in a holistic manner by, inter alia, strengthening passenger flow management, purchasing new trains, replacing the signalling systems, ensuring the timely completion of new railway lines, etc. Details were explained to Members at the meeting of the Subcommittee on Matters Relating to Railways late last month, and I am not going to repeat them here.

     My reply to the various parts of the Hon Starry Lee's question is as follows:

(1) We have considered the pricing strategy mentioned by the Hon Starry Lee. Our preliminary view is that it is worthwhile to study the feasibility of a fare concession scheme in encouraging some of the commuters to take their MTR rides outside peak hours. MTRCL is pressing ahead with the study, and will make reference to similar practices adopted by overseas cities, so as to decide how best the scheme could be implemented in Hong Kong for achieving passenger diversion. The conclusion will be made known to the public once available.

     The four new domestic rail lines under construction, namely, the West Island Line, the South Island Line (East), the Kwun Tong Line Extension and the Shatin to Central Link (SCL), will be commissioned in phases between end-2014 and 2020. Upon their commissioning, it will help increase the overall carrying capacity of the MTR system and the diversion of the existing patronage. In particular, upon its full commissioning, the SCL will provide an additional rail line across the harbour, thereby alleviating the passenger flow served by the existing MTR cross-harbour routes during peak hours.

     Amid the expansion of the railway network, franchised buses will continue to play an important role in our public transport system. At present, the railway and franchised bus networks account for about 40% and 32% respectively of the daily passenger trips made by public transport modes.

     Apart from serving areas not directly accessible by railways, franchised buses provide feeder service to railway stations and supplementary service in areas within the railway catchment. Depending on actual needs, there are inter-district bus services to complement railway service. Indeed, bus services of different scales, including peak-hour services, are generally available in areas already served by railways so that passengers can have more choices. The 78 cross-harbour franchised bus routes are basically running alongside the most crowded cross-harbour sections of the railway system. This helps facilitate passenger diversion. The Transport Department, together with franchised bus operators and MTRCL, will study how buses can play a greater role in passenger diversion.

(2) The busiest section of the East Rail Line (ERL) is the section from Tai Wai Station to Kowloon Tong Station, which is currently the only way to the urban areas for commuters of the ERL and the Ma On Shan Line (MOL). In this regard, the SCL section between Tai Wai and Hung Hom scheduled for completion in 2018 will connect with the West Rail Line (WRL) and the MOL to form the "East West Corridor" (EWC). The 7-car trains running in WRL and 4-car trains in MOL will altogether become 8-car trains running along EWC. As such, the railway link will not only increase the carrying capacity, but will also play a vital part in diversion of passengers. In 2020, the SCL will extend to Admiralty and form the "North South Corridor" (NSC) with the ERL. Upon full commissioning of the NSC, we estimate that about 20% of the passengers from the section between Tai Wai and Kowloon Tong will switch to the SCL for onward trips to Kowloon East and Hong Kong Island, thus alleviating the loading of the ERL.

     The underground utilities and foundations of buildings along the northern shore of Hong Kong Island is congested, leaving limited sites or space for the construction of railway stations. As such, trains running along the NSC connecting Lo Wu Station and Admiralty Station will have to be changed from 12-car trains currently serving the ERL to 9-car trains. To tie in with the enhancement of the signalling system, however, the headway will be shortened from about three minutes currently to about two minutes during peak hours, enabling the NSC to operate with a carrying capacity similar to that of the ERL. Coupled with the diversion effect mentioned above, we anticipate a drop of about 20% in the patronage of the ERL section between Tai Wai Station and Kowloon Tong Station in the morning peak hours after the commissioning of the SCL.

(3) The "North East New Territories New Development Areas Planning and Engineering Study" undertaken by the Planning Department and the Civil Engineering and Development Department of the Development Bureau has been largely completed. It is anticipated that the Kwu Tung North New Development Area (NDA) and the Fanling North NDA, upon full development in 2031, will be able to accommodate an additional population of over 170 000, with the first intake in 2023. The above Study proposes the construction of the new Kwu Tung Station to cope with the increased transport demand, and, in the long run, the exploration of constructing the Northern Link (NOL) to connect the ERL and the WRL for diverting the passenger flow from the ERL, as well as serving the additional population along its alignment.

     The Government has commissioned a consultant to conduct a study for the Review and Update of the "Railway Development Strategy 2000", exploring, among others, the conceptual proposals of the NOL and the addition of the Kwu Tung Station. After considering the consultant's overall recommendations, we will formulate the blueprint for railway development beyond 2020 having regard to transport demand, cost-effectiveness and development needs of New Development Areas. We will announce the way forward for the new railway proposals as soon as possible.

Ends/Wednesday, March 19, 2014
Issued at HKT 13:10


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