LCQ5: Measures to facilitate travel on the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link
There are views that the full resumption of the operation of the Hong Kong Section of the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong-Express Rail Link (XRL) now can help Hong Kong integrate into the National 14th Five-Year Plan. However, the relevant arrangements and ancillary facilities currently in Hong Kong have still not been aligned with those on the Mainland, thus failing to fully unleash the potential of XRL and promote exchanges and collaboration between the people of Hong Kong and the Mainland. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(1) whether the Government will discuss with the National Railway Administration (NRA) the arrangements for the "metroisation" of XRL, such as following the practice of Shanghai and Suzhou, etc. of selling "standee" tickets for short-haul XRL trips, so that passengers can buy tickets and board the trains at any time; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;
(2) whether the Government will discuss with NRA the arrangements for introducing monthly passes for XRL and providing two types of monthly passes for commuting between Hong Kong and Shenzhen and between Hong Kong and Guangzhou respectively, so as to facilitate the exchange of talents between Hong Kong and the Mainland cities in the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that; and
(3) as it is learnt that currently the chips of the Mainland Travel Permits for Hong Kong and Macao Residents (commonly known as "Home Return Permits") are different from those of Mainland resident identity cards, resulting in a longer time required for the identification of Home Return Permits by the entry/exit gates at the Mainland Port Areas of XRL, whether the Government will discuss with the Mainland authorities the upgrading of the software of the entry/exit gates concerned, so as to speed up the time for the identification of Home Return Permits to make it comparable to that for the identification of Mainland resident identity cards, thereby reducing the waiting time of passengers; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that?
The Hong Kong Section of the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link (XRL) was commissioned on September 23, 2018, connecting with the over 40 000 km long national high speed rail network. It is a key component of the highly accessible transport network and economic circle of the Greater Bay Area, and consolidates Hong Kong's position as a regional transportation hub. The XRL Hong Kong Section has been suspended for nearly three years since January 30, 2020 due to the pandemic. With the resumption of normal travel between Hong Kong and the Mainland, the XRL Hong Kong Section has progressively resumed services since January 15, 2023. As compared with the services before the pandemic, three new destinations have been introduced from January 15 and five new destinations will be introduced from April 1 onwards. The Hong Kong West Kowloon Station will then be directly connected to 66 destinations, including ten short haul destinations, making it a more comprehensive network, facilitating the flow of people between the two places. With effect from this Saturday (April 1), the daily frequency of the XRL trains between Hong Kong and the Mainland will increase from the current 102 trips to 164 trips per day, basically returning to the pre-pandemic level.
In consultation with the Electrical and Mechanical Services Department and the MTR Corporation Limited (MTRCL), my reply to the question raised by the Hon Michael Tien is as follows:
As the Hong Kong operator of the XRL Hong Kong Section, the MTRCL has been in active liaison and close collaboration with the China State Railway Group Company Limited and the China Railway Guangzhou Group Company Limited to continuously enhance the various operating arrangements of the XRL Hong Kong Section.
In particular, the MTRCL and the relevant Mainland railway authorities have been studying and discussing the feasibility of "metroisation" of short haul services of the XRL. Under the arrangement, ticket holders may flexibly alter the tickets to any other trains travelling to/from the same Mainland destination on the same day, thereby enhancing the flexibility of passengers' travel arrangements. The MTRCL and the relevant mainland railway authorities have already set up a task force to follow up on the matter. We will liaise closely with the MTRCL, and study and discuss with the relevant Mainland authorities to take forward the proposal, with a view to further enhancing the flexibility of XRL services and facilitating the efficient movement of people between Hong Kong and the Mainland.
On the other hand, the MTRCL has been closely monitoring the operation of the XRL services with relevant Mainland railway authorities, and will introduce various measures to attract and facilitate passengers to use the convenient XRL services according to passenger demand. We will continue to maintain close contact with the relevant Mainland authorities together with the MTRCL, and explore the feasibility of introducing different ticket types (such as monthly passes) with the operation of the XRL services and passengers' demand duly taken into account, with a view to providing convenience to passengers who frequently use the XRL to travel between Hong Kong and the Mainland.
Regarding "standee" tickets, under the current rules, passengers taking cross-boundary trains must board the train according to the car and seat number. In other words, all passengers are required to travel on the cross-boundary XRL trains with a valid ticket and in accordance with the specified seat number.
Safety of railway operations and passengers are of paramount importance to the XRL services. When considering the provision of "standee" tickets on short haul cross-boundary XRL trains, the relevant factors to be considered include relevant regulations on railway operation and safety in the Mainland and Hong Kong, train type and design (e.g. whether there are handrails for passengers standing in the compartments, restrictions on train load, etc.), train speed, operating situation of relevant sections, emergency handling, etc. We will continue to explore with the relevant Mainland railway authorities together with the MTRCL on options to enhance the cross-boundary XRL services, so as to offer greater convenience to passengers and facilitate the flow of people between the two places, on the prerequisite that operation and passenger safety is ensured.
Since the resumption of services of the XRL Hong Kong Section on January 15 this year, the ticketing system has been fully upgraded. Through the introduction of e-tickets, the tickets are linked with the travel document, hence enabling passengers to pass through the gates and board the trains in a simpler and faster manner. During the initial period, passengers may need time to familiarise themselves with the operation of the new ticket gates. The MTRCL and Mainland railway operators have provided additional reminders and deployed more manpower to guide and assist passengers to use the ticket gates properly (such as the position and direction of placing the Home Return Permits). According to a recent discussion between the MTRCL and the relevant Mainland authorities, the flow at ticket gates at Mainland stations for passengers travelling with Home Return Permits are generally smooth. We will pay close attention to the situation with the MTRCL in order to provide passengers with a comfortable and convenient experience on the XRL.
As the short haul and long haul XRL services between Hong Kong and the Mainland resume in a progressive and orderly manner, the Government and the MTRCL will continue to liaise and co-ordinate with the relevant Mainland authorities and railway operators closely to continuously enhance the service of the XRL Hong Kong Section. This would maximise the benefits of the XRL Hong Kong section, link up with the high speed rail network in the Mainland, and promote deeper and wider exchanges and collaboration on various aspects between people in the Mainland and Hong Kong, so that the XRL Hong Kong Section can play an even greater role in enhancing connectivity.
Thank you, President.
Ends/Wednesday, March 29, 2023
Issued at HKT 13:57
Issued at HKT 13:57