17 February 2019
Pakhar, the second storm to hit Hong Kong, Macau and southern China in a week, led to severe disruptions in rail and air services in the region. Photo: Ben Kwok
Pakhar, the second storm to hit Hong Kong, Macau and southern China in a week, led to severe disruptions in rail and air services in the region. Photo: Ben Kwok

A through-train experience under typhoon No.8

Given the warnings about tropical storm Pakhar, most people stayed put and remained indoors over the weekend, especially after seeing the destruction wrought by Typhoon Hato a few days earlier.

Not me, however, as an offer from a mainland relative was so tempting that I actually made a cross-border trip on Saturday. 

Well, the relative had invited me over to Guangzhou, saying he has booked tickets for the famous dance show “Peacock of Winter” at the city’s Grand Theatre and that he will treat me to a delicious dinner after the show.

Everything went as planned except I had a little problem the morning after: how do I get back to Hong Kong on a stormy Sunday?

At 9.30am, I was at Guangzhou East Railway Station, hoping for the best.

Not many people from Guangzhou, I was told, were traveling to Hong Kong as authorities across the border had raised the No.8 typhoon signal shortly after 5am that day.

Only few people were in the line before me at the ticket counter and it took just a few minutes before I made my way into the waiting area, where I was able to find a good seat.

While anxiously waiting for my train ride back to Hong Kong, I took a little nap. When I woke up, I found that my scheduled 09:55 train was not there. The time was now changed to 10:30.

The delay, just like we see in the case of many mainland flights, was not announced to the public in advance.

Worse still, even the 10.30 proved to be a mirage as the gate entrance saw the time being changed again, to 11:15.

This led to a bout of panic as I wondered whether I would have to spend endless hours waiting at the Guangzhou station, unable to reach home at a decent time.

Fortunately, the storm subsided and I eventually managed to get back to Hong Kong.

All this set me thinking about the recurring tropical cyclone threats in the region and the apparent disparity in the warning systems in Hong Kong and China when it comes to natural disasters.

When it comes to typhoons, it is really “one country, two systems”.

In China, only coastal cities have alert systems, but they are nothing much to write home about, especially compared to the warning procedures we have in Hong Kong, or even Macau.

Coming to trains, when there is storm signal No.8 in Hong Kong, it is up to MTR Corp. to make a decision as to whether to continue its operations or suspend the service.

But when the signal goes 9 or above, guidelines require the trains to be suspended.

But across the border in the mainland, there doesn’t seem to enough clarity when it comes to automatic procedures and emergency response measures.

I have found that both MTR and Cathay Pacific are quite reliable in offering guidance to passengers in case of service disruptions due to typhoons.

In the mainland, a direct train between Guangzhou and Hong Kong officially remained in operation on Sunday morning despite Pakhar.

Fortunately, the storm proved to be more of a rain phenomenon rather than a windy affair. I was lucky and managed to depart Guangzhou at 11:15am. The train made its way to Hong Kong, albeit quite slowly.

The train crew wasted no time in pitching a rice box set for over 60 yuan, though the delivery would only come much later after order placement. If you wanted a Coca Cola, you had to shell out as much as 25 yuan extra.

But I had no complaint, as I was starving. There had been only one small coffee shop in the waiting lobby at the Guangzhou station.

After the lunch and a nap, I was able to arrive in Hong Kong at 2:05pm, nearly three hours after leaving Guangzhou. By then, the typhoon signal was down to No.3.

Not too bad an experience, I reckon, but I certainly hope things will improve next year when a new through-train to Guangzhou South station will start operating from the West Kowloon terminus.

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EJ Insight writer

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