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LCQ1: Alleviating the loading of MTR East Rail Line
     Following is a question by the Hon Lau Kwok-fan and a reply by the Secretary for Transport and Housing, Mr Frank Chan Fan, in the Legislative Council today (June 15):
     There are views pointing out that upon the commencement of service of the new signalling system of MTR East Rail Line (ERL) in February last year, ERL's maximum carrying capacity per hour per direction is 82 500 passenger trips, which is less than 101 000 passenger trips under the old system. In addition, with an increased patronage of ERL upon commissioning of its Cross-Harbour Extension, coupled with an expected population growth of over 200 000 along the railway line in New Territories East in the coming few years, the loading of ERL will become even heavier. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(1) given that the current average headway of ERL during peak hours is about 2.7 minutes, which is still quite a distance from the maximum headway of about two minutes under the new ERL signalling system, whether it knows if the MTR Corporation Limited has put in place a timetable for increasing the train frequencies to the highest level during peak hours;
(2) whether it will, by drawing reference from the experience of overseas countries, study arranging those local trains commonly known as "short trippers" (i.e. trains that will not run the entire railway line or cross the harbour) to serve on ERL, or provide harbour-crossing trains with additional train cars the doors of which will remain closed, and instruct passengers to board and alight such trains via those train cars the doors of which will be opened, during peak hours; and
(3) whether it will construct a new north-south railway line, and study the preliminary alignment as well as formulate a timetable for expediting the implementation of the relevant works, so as to divert the passengers of ERL?
     The East Rail Line (EAL) cross-harbour extension was commissioned on May 15 this year and has become the fourth cross-harbour railway line in Hong Kong. Passengers can travel directly between the Northeast New Territories and Hong Kong Island and interchange with five other railway lines via four interchange stations on the EAL. The commissioning of the extension is an important milestone of railway development, providing faster and more convenient railway services.
     My reply to the question raised by the Hon Lau Kwok-fan is as follows:
     The entire EAL is now using the new 9-car trains and new signalling system. Apart from shortening the journey time between Sheung Shui and Hung Hom Stations by about eight minutes, there will be room to increase train frequency based on passenger demand. The train frequency of the EAL during the morning peak has increased from about three minutes before commissioning of the cross-harbour extension to about 2.7 minutes now. According to the MTR Corporation Limited (MTRCL)'s observation, the critical link of the EAL during the busiest one hour in the morning peak is the Tai Wai to Kowloon Tong section, with a loading of about 73 per cent (based on four standing persons per square metre).
     The commissioning of the EAL cross-harbour extension has also brought diversion effect on other railway lines. According to preliminary observations, there has been a drop in patronage of the critical link in the morning peak of the Tsuen Wan Line by more than 20 per cent, and a drop of about 10 per cent for that of the Kwun Tong Line, resulting in more even distribution of patronage in the whole railway network.
     The MTRCL is aware that there are clusters of passengers during particular period of time, and at particular stations and train compartments during the morning peak. It has therefore adopted a series of measures to facilitate passenger flow, including implementing passenger diversion measures at stations in the Northern New Territories (such as Fanling and Tai Wo Stations) to guide passengers to board the trains at the less crowded areas of platform, using technology (including the Cross-Harbour Easy display panels and Train Car Loading Indicator) to divert passengers to less crowded railway lines and train compartments so as to achieve a more even distribution of patronage, and arranging short-haul trips for stations with more passengers to improve passenger flow (such as arranging short-haul trips from Sha Tin and Tai Po Market Stations to Admiralty Station during the morning peak). 
     The Government has always encouraged the MTRCL to explore more measures to improve passenger flow and enhance passengers' travelling experience. The MTRCL will consider various proposals holistically, including whether or not the measures suit the travelling patterns of most passengers, the passenger waiting time and train schedules. For example, one of the advantages of the EAL is to enable passengers to travel directly between the Northeast New Territories and Hong Kong Island without interchanging. If some trains do not cross the harbour during peak hours, passengers going to Hong Kong Island will have to interchange at Hung Hom or other stations, thus increasing their travelling time, and correspondingly the waiting time of passengers travelling from Hong Kong Island to Northeast New Territories. Regarding the suggestion to provide harbour-crossing trains with train cars with doors which do not open, this will increase the time for passengers moving in and out of the train cars, and in turn affect train frequency. Also, passengers may need to move along train compartments while the trains are travelling, resulting in safety risks.
     The Government will continue to urge the MTRCL to adjust train services and arrange short-haul trips running between busy stations as needed based on patronage and the actual situation to meet passenger demand.
     The Government has been advocating the "infrastructure-led" and "capacity creating" planning approaches in taking forward transport infrastructure projects with a view to unleashing the development potentials of new development areas along the alignment of major transport infrastructure. The Transport and Housing Bureau will make its best endeavours to collaborate with the Development Bureau and other bureaux to ensure the provisioning of sufficient transport infrastructure to accommodate the transport need arising from population intake, employment and economic activities of the new development areas. As regards the long-term planning of railway network, based on the development strategy of the "Hong Kong 2030+: Towards a Planning Vision and Strategy Transcending 2030" planning study, we are conducting the "Strategic Studies on Railways and Major Roads beyond 2030" to explore the overall layout of territory-wide railway and major road infrastructure and conduct preliminary engineering and technical assessments for the alignments and supporting facilities, so as to ensure that the related planning will complement or even reserve capacity to meet the overall long-term development needs of Hong Kong, including the Northern Metropolis Development Strategy, etc. The study will also review the impacts of the related transport infrastructure on the existing transport network and to formulate the corresponding strategies. We plan to consolidate the preliminary study findings and commence public consultation in the second half of this year. 
     Thank you, President.
Ends/Wednesday, June 15, 2022
Issued at HKT 12:40
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