LCQ19: MTR carrying capacity and passenger flow management

     Following is a question by the Hon Tang Ka-piu and a written reply by the Secretary for Transport and Housing, Professor Anthony Cheung Bing-leung, in the Legislative Council today (April 20):


     Railways are the backbone of Hong Kong's public transport system. However, the railway passenger throughput has been rising in recent years, arousing concerns about whether the carrying capacity of the railway system is able to meet the service demand. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(1) whether it knows in respect of the various stations along the East Rail Line, the Kwun Tong Line and the Tsuen Wan Line, the respective design passenger throughput of (i) the stations as a whole, (ii) platforms, (iii) ticket gates and (iv) entrances (set out in a table); the respective actual average passenger flows of (v) those stations as a whole, (vi) platforms, (vii) ticket gates and (viii) entrances during peak hours and non-peak hours in the past five years (set out in a table);

(2) whether it knows the names of those railway stations whose actual passenger flows at present have exceeded their design passenger throughput (overloaded) during peaks hours, and the respective percentages by which they are overloaded (set out in a table);

(3) whether it knows the measures the MTR Corporation Limited (MTRCL) has put in place to ease the passenger flows at various railway stations; whether the company has formulated specific measures for each of the overloaded stations to ease their passenger flows; if the MTRCL has, of the details; if not; the reasons for that;

(4) whether it knows if the MTRCL has (i) assessed the safety and fire hazards of various railway stations when they are overcrowded with passengers or overloaded, and (ii) formulated contingency measures and arrangements for crowd control to deal with unexpected incidents that may occur during peak hours, so as to ensure the safety of passengers; if the MTRCL has, of the assessment results of various stations along the East Rail Line, the Kwun Tong Line and the Tsuen Wan Line;

(5) whether it knows if the MTRCL has planned to expand the stations along the East Rail Line, the Kwun Tong Line and the Tsuen Wan Line or has formulated other measures to increase the design passenger throughput of those stations; if the MTRCL has, of the details; if not, the reasons for that; and

(6) as it has been reported that the Urban Renewal Authority has suggested lending some spaces to the MTRCL for it to carry out the redevelopment project for the Kwun Tong Station (including replacement of tracks and widening of platforms and station concourse), whether the Government will support and help facilitate that redevelopment project; if it will, of the follow-up work to be undertaken; if not, the measures the authorities have in place to address the problem of that station being overloaded?



     An average of over five million passenger trips are made in the MTR network every day. The MTR Corporation Limited (MTRCL) is committed to providing safe, reliable and smooth railway services. The MTRCL will continue its efforts to maintain smooth train operations even at the busiest sections and during the peak periods and keep passenger flow management in an orderly manner, through implementation of various measures. In this regard, while the design and arrangement of various "hardware" components of the railway system, including train design, service frequency, platforms, ticket gates and entrances of railway stations, will set some parameters for the passenger flow and management, it is worth noting that whether the passenger flow management of a railway system is in order would depend more on the compatibility of the "software" part - passenger flow management measures. Since the commissioning of MTR in 1979, even though the MTR network and patronage have been expanding and increasing in light of population growth (the existing railway stations would rarely be expanded in this process), overall, the passenger flow have been well managed, thereby maintaining a good order.

     My reply to various parts of the Hon Tang Ka-piu's question is as follows:

(1) to (5) 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. Based on a four ppsm passenger density and current train frequency, the loading during morning peak hours for critical links of the East Rail Line, Kwun Tong Line and Tsuen Wan Line in 2015 is 93, 92 and 102 per cent respectively. When calculating based on the passenger density of six ppsm, the corresponding loading of East Rail Line, Kwun Tong Line and Tsuen Wan Line is 66, 66 and 73 per cent respectively. The number of compartments a train comprises and train frequencies are determined at the design stage to meet projected passenger demand. It should be stressed that when setting the maximum density benchmark of six ppsm for train compartments, apart from ensuring the compatibility of the size and number of train compartments a train comprises and the train frequency, the other components of the heavy rail network, including the design of railway station structures (e.g. the concourses and the number of exits), platform size, passageways, and escalator throughput are also designed and constructed accordingly to ensure that the railway service can cater for the passenger flow. In designing the stations, the MTRCL has also taken into account the community development and ancillary facilities in the vicinity. The designs of the stations were also approved by the relevant Government departments at that time.

     According to the MTRCL, overall speaking, various parts of the present heavy rail network are able to maintain safe, reliable and smooth train operations while meeting the standard of 6ppm in terms of carrying capacity. Among the various parts, the loading of platform is the most critical. When a platform is overcrowded, the station staff of MTR will launch passenger flow management measures correspondingly, according to the actual situation. These measures include temporary closure of some escalators and ticket gates. The Corporation will also adjust entry and exit direction for the entrances of certain stations, according to actual situation, to limit the number of passengers heading from the concourse to the platform and rationalise passenger flow. The MTRCL may also close down some entrances, where situation warrants. The MTRCL's nearly 40 years of experience in railway operation shows that, as long as the passenger flow management measures are suitably deployed, safe and smooth railway facilities and service can be maintained even when it is crowded.

     In so far as individual stations are concerned, there are variations in train frequencies at different stations at different hours of the day, and in the amount, direction and density of passenger flow entering or exiting the stations or parts of the stations. In addition, the abovementioned passenger flow management measures have been playing a critical role in ensuring smooth train operations. Therefore, even at one time where the overall number of passengers at a station or those using particular facilities in the railway station is higher than the actual number of passengers on train at the same time, it does not necessary mean that the actual passenger flow has exceeded the limit. Moreover, with incessant passenger flow, coupled with the integration of quite a number of MTR stations with various facilities in the neighbourhood, the passenger flow in the stations may not be heading for the trains or facilities and shops in the stations. Furthermore, the MTR covers an extensive network of some 10 heavy railway lines and 87 stations, including 19 interchange stations, while the multiple entrances at the stations may be as many as some 10 of them. Therefore, the use of passenger throughput calculated on the basis of the stations as a whole, or passenger throughout at platforms, ticket gates and entrances, as mentioned in the question, may not be the most appropriate way to understand the passenger flow and loading of stations. It is worth noting that, the year of design and construction of various railway stations vary, and further alteration works have been done after the commissioning of service of some of the stations (such as addition of entrances). The MTRCL advised that more time is required to search and collate information. A written reply will be issued to the Legislative Council once the work is completed.

     Furthermore, the MTRCL has been striving to ease passenger flow at stations by enhancing the carrying capacity of the railway network and station management measures through strengthening train service and reducing passenger waiting time. Details are at Legislative Council paper CB(4)854/15-16(07) issued on April 12.

     In case of incidents, the Operations Control Centre will coordinate train operations and arrangement at various stations, MTRCL staff would be on duty at each MTR station to carry out crowd management duties, including making public announcements, issuing station notices and assisting passengers on fare matters according to the established procedures. The number of station staff will also be increased as needed. The Customer Service Rapid Response Unit in their pink vests may also be deployed to stations to provide assistance to passengers. The staff assigned to contingency duties are familiar with the contingency plans. The MTRCL will also continue to review and update regularly its contingency plans for railway service disruption in the light of operational experience gained.

     For expansion works to be carried out at stations in operation, an array of factors have to be considered. These include constraints posed by the structures of individual stations, the space within a station, the surrounding environment of a station, passenger flow, and whether the expansion part involves property rights or land use rights of other parties and so forth. Except for the recently completed modification works at Fo Tan and Mong Kok Stations (to connect the two separate paid areas for facilitating passenger flow and their use of station facilities), and the ongoing works at Diamond Hill, Hung Hom and Admiralty Stations of the Shatin to Central Link, the MTRCL currently has no other plan for station expansion. Besides, the MTRCL has rolled out enhancement measures at Mong Kok and Kowloon Bay Stations. These include installing additional escalators and ticket gates etc., so as to rationalise passenger flow.

(6) As mentioned above, the MTRCL has implemented a series of measures to enhance the carrying capacity of railway service and management of passenger flow at stations. One of MTRCL's key tasks at present is the upgrade of signalling systems of seven MTR lines including Kwun Tong Line. Upon the completion of the upgrade, the train frequency could be increased, and the passenger flow at station will also be smoothened.

     Redevelopment of any MTR station in operation requires considerations of a variety of factors. Apart from the technical factors mentioned above, how to ensure continuous provision of undisrupted railway service for passengers during redevelopment is also a difficult question. According to the MTRCL, the existing structure of Kwun Tong Station, various station facilities and passenger flow management measures are largely able to meet passenger needs. Therefore, the Corporation has no plan to redevelop Kwun Tong Station. The MTRCL has also advised that it has not received from any organisation any "land-lending" proposal for redevelopment of Kwun Tong Station. When the upgrade of signalling system of Kwun Tong Line is completed, it will also help ease the passenger flow at the Kwun Tong Station.

     As far as the Development Bureau understands, the Urban Renewal Authority is currently exploring options for improving local public transport facilities (including its passageway with MTR Kwun Tong Station), in conjunction with the MTRCL and other departments, for the purpose of the Kwun Tong Town Centre redevelopment project, with a view to enhancing the integration of the redevelopment project with these public transport facilities and facilitating the travelling of citizens. Concrete proposals have yet to be formulated.

Ends/Wednesday, April 20, 2016
Issued at HKT 16:34