Hong Kong enters high-speed rail era

Source : Shenzhen Daily

The long-awaited Hong Kong section of the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link got off to a smooth and vibrant start on Sunday, in what could be the key driver that essentially adds flesh to the bones of the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area's development.

Top officials from the Chinese mainland and Hong Kong threw their weight behind the impressive engineering feat that allows Asia's financial center direct access to the country's massive 25,000-kilometer high-speed rail network — the largest of its kind the world over.

"The XRL, as its name suggests, is part and parcel of a package of broader efforts to tie Hong Kong more closely than ever to the Bay Area and the rest of its mother country," Hong Kong's Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said at a summit in Hong Kong on Sunday.

"The distance between Hong Kong and the Chinese mainland, never far from the outset, is about to get even closer," said Lam, in the belief that the gigantic infrastructure project heralds the arrival of a brand-new lifestyle, featured by high-speed rail travel, for passengers to and from the city.

A living example comes from Minister of Science and Technology Wang Zhigang, who is scheduled to wrap up his business trip in Hong Kong on Sunday and cannot wait to take the high-speed rail train back to Guangzhou, capital of Guangdong Province, to get a taste of the highly anticipated rail travel.

The Vibrant Express trains, running between Hong Kong and other destinations in Guangdong Province, made their maiden journeys to the mainland from the swanky, newly built West Kowloon Station at 7 a.m. on Sunday.

Hailing it as "the fresh beginning of a new life," Secretary for Transport and Housing of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Government Frank Chan Fan said the new rail line is a cross-boundary infrastructure mega-project that "every Hong Kong resident should take pride in."

"Mooted in 2000 and more than eight years in the making, the 26-kilometer project comes as an extraordinary and meaningful birthday gift for the country's National Day on Oct. 1," Lam said at an event on Saturday.

"It makes a well-timed debut when the world's second-largest economy commemorates the 40th anniversary of the ground-breaking reform and opening-up policy this year, and offers a historic opportunity for Hong Kong people to see for themselves the economic, social and technological development miracle on the Chinese mainland," she said

The transportation link, with a cost of about HK$84.42 billion (US$10.8 billion), is operated by the city's sole train operator, Mass Transit Railway Corporation. It stands as Hong Kong's first-ever high-speed train that will slash travel time to Guangzhou by more than half to 47 minutes, and connect passengers from Hong Kong to 44 destinations on the Chinese mainland, including Beijing and Shanghai.

Passengers taking the city's first bullet train to the Chinese mainland heaped high praise on its first-day operation on Sunday.

Exhilarated families, tourist groups and diehard railway fans began flocking to West Kowloon Station in the wee hours of the morning, eager to get a first-hand taste of a historic ride.

The first high-speed Vibrant Express — a new train model operated by MTR Corporation — left the West Kowloon terminus at 7 a.m. and arrived at Shenzhen North Station 19 minutes later.

Ng Kwan-lap, a 10-year-old Hong Kong student, described the journey as comfortable, saying the ride was stable, despite a speed of up to 200 kilometers per hour. He hopes to take the train to Beijing in the future.

Another passenger, Wu Di, 30, said he came to Hong Kong from Shenzhen with his girlfriend. As a frequent traveler on the mainland's high-speed trains, he hopes MTRC could learn from its mainland counterpart in providing the same level of services and facilities.

The first train to Guangzhou departed from Hong Kong at 8:30 a.m. and arrived at Guangzhou South Station about an hour later.

Joy Yau, a Hong Kong civil servant, said he intended to take a bicycle ride after arriving in Guangzhou. Compared with the high-speed train from Wuhan to Guangzhou, he said the carriages on Vibrant Express, with upgraded facilities, offered more space for him to store his foldable bike.

In the reverse direction, equally enthusiastic groups of mainland residents and railway fans boarded high-speed trains from as far away as Beijing and Shanghai for Hong Kong.

Tickets for the two long-haul journeys — one from Shanghai and the other from Beijing to Hong Kong — had been sold out well in advance.

Feng Yan, a 36-year-old associate professor at the Communication University of China in Beijing, took the first high-speed train G5711 from Shenzhen North to West Kowloon Station.

As a big railway fan, he went to Shenzhen from Beijing to witness the historic moment, taking along with him dozens of old train tickets spanning different ages, as a small part of his collection.

Besides the fast speed and upgraded facilities, other highlights of the bullet trains include Hong Kong-flavored food and drinks in long-haul services provided to passengers after strict quality inspections.

Passengers arriving at West Kowloon Station on Sunday also received special souvenirs from MTRC staff and took photos for their albums.

The Hong Kong rail operator promised to improve its operational procedures after receiving feedback from passengers.

Some commuters had complained that they were barred from checking in due to heavy luggage that had exceeded the dimensional or weight requirements.

MTRC Operations Director Adi Lau Tin-shing said he hopes they can be given more time to better their services, and they also will strengthen promotional work on luggage restrictions.