Avid train fans make a dash for the platform at Exhibition Center station in Hong Kong. (South China Morning Post photo)
HONG KONG: Hong Kong railway fans on Sunday rushed to board the first train at dawn on a newly opened, cross-harbor section of the city’s costliest MTR project, with the long-awaited launch coming off years of repeated delays and cost overruns.
Despite the light rain, hundreds of train enthusiasts had lined up overnight outside the entrance of Exhibition Center station in north Wan Chai to be the first passengers on the stretch.
The Hung Hom-Admiralty section – via Exhibition Center station in Wan Chai north – is more commonly known as the cross-harbor extension of the East Rail line. It is the fourth cross-harbor railway route connecting Hong Kong Island with Kowloon and the New Territories.
Fans armed with GoPro cameras, selfie sticks and railway memorabilia chanted “open the gates” and “let us in” as they excitedly waited for doors at the Exhibition Center station to open at 4.35am. Once through, they dashed down to the platform for the first train set to depart at 5.30am.
Railway fan Jason Law, who became an internet sensation after he sang a song about the opening of the Tuen Ma line last year, was among the hundreds who queued overnight.
“I have been waiting for this day for so long. This is like a post-DSE gift from the MTR,” gushed the 17-year-old, who had just finished his Diploma of Secondary Education papers, or university entrance examination on Friday .
In anticipation of the opening of the Hung Hom-Admiralty section, the MTR Corporation had even produced a music video Excited about Harbor Crossing on the East Rail, which was released on Thursday evening.
The number is a remake of folk song Greensleeves and features seven people from different sectors, including Canto-pop singer Stephanie Cheng and badminton Olympian Tse Ying-suet. Train enthusiast Law, who first sung about the Tuen Ma line to this tune, also made a cameo in the music video.
Students Donald Poon, 15, and Toto Leung, 14, were among the hundreds who rushed to the platform once gates opened.
“We were taking photos of the last train at the old platform at Hung Hom at midnight. After that we came straight to queue up. We’re very excited about this historic moment,” said Poon, who brought along a foldable stool for the overnight wait.
Excited commuters took photos of the different features in the station, including the shell of a World War II bomb which was uncovered during the construction of the site.
Passengers cheered as the doors of the train closed, beginning their first journey across the harbor on the extension line.
MTR staff also gave out free masks and badges to commuters to commemorate the special occasion. The masks come in five designs, representing the new Admiralty and Exhibition Center stations, and interchange stations Hung Hom, Kowloon Tong and Tai Wai.
Following the opening of the cross-harbor extension, the old platform at Hung Hom serving the East Rail line for the past 47 years will be decommissioned.
Commuters switching from the East Rail line to the Tuen Man line no longer have to walk three minutes across the station for their transfer. The new East Rail platforms are located one storey below those for the Tuen Ma line, easily accessible via escalators.
Passengers in northern Hong Kong can now also travel across to the island side to reach commercial and financial hubs in the Admiralty area without making transfers. The new section will extend the East Rail line for almost 46km, with a total of 16 stations.
With the new opening, Admiralty station will become a mega interchange for four MTR lines – East Rail, Tsuen Wan, Island and South Island.
A trip from Admiralty across the harbor to Hung Hom takes approximately seven minutes, while it takes 13 minutes to travel to Kowloon Tong, a major interchange on the Kwun Tong line.
The long-overdue opening of the Hung Hom-Admiralty section brought an end to a project plagued by construction delays, glitches and cost overruns.
The MTR Corp and its contractors have been under investigation by a government-appointed commission of inquiry over shoddy construction work and cover-ups. The project ended up running HK $ 10 billion over its budget, costing HK $ 90.7 billion.