22 March 2019
Government officials and MTR senior executives display an enlarge replica of a ticket for the Express Rail Link, which will start operation on Sept. 23. Photo: HKEJ
Government officials and MTR senior executives display an enlarge replica of a ticket for the Express Rail Link, which will start operation on Sept. 23. Photo: HKEJ

XRL to offer direct links to 44 mainland cities from Sept 23

The Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link (XRL) will start operation on Sept. 23, offering direct links to 44 mainland cities, more than originally planned.

Calling the launch day “a historic moment” for Hong Kong, Secretary for Transport and Housing Frank Chan Fan said the XRL will provide a brand-new, faster and more convenient mode of cross-boundary transportation, foster commercial and cultural exchanges between Hong Kong and mainland cities, and enable Hong Kong to tap into the synergy and opportunities brought about by the development of the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reports.

The first XRL train, Vibrant Express, will depart from the Kowloon West terminus at 7:00 a.m. and head for the Shenzhen North Station. The second-class fare is HK$86.

In a press conference on Thursday, Chan said it was a “happy surprise” that the XRL trains, which connect to the national high-speed rail network, would reach 44 mainland destinations, up from 18 announced earlier.

The Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Passenger Line will have six short-haul destinations: Futian, Shenzhen North, Guangmingcheng, Humen, Qingsheng and Guangzhou South.

On the other hand, there will be 38 long-haul destinations along the Beijing-Guangzhou Passenger Line, Hangzhou-Fuzhou-Shenzhen Passenger Line, Shanghai-Kunming Passenger Line and Guiyang-Guangzhou Passenger Line, including major cities such as Beijing, Shanghai, Wuhan, and Hangzhou.

Upon commissioning, there will be 114 pairs of short-haul trains daily during peak periods, which cover public holidays in Hong Kong and the mainland, and 70 train pairs will run daily during weekdays from Monday to Thursday, with the number increasing to 82 pairs from Fridays to Sundays. There will also be 13 pairs of direct long-haul trains daily.

The train schedule will be adjusted according to market demand.

The government had claimed that it would only take 48 minutes to travel the 142-kilometer distance between Hong Kong and Guangzhou by XRL.

However, in the train schedule announced on Thursday, this travel time is true only for three non-stop train pairs each day, while the 27 other pairs will take between 50 minutes and 71 minutes to complete the 142-kilometer distance as there will be more stations to stop at.

As for ticket prices, Chan said second-class fares from Hong Kong to short-haul destinations range from 68 yuan (HK$77.5, US$10) for Futian to 215 yuan for Guangzhou South. If one wants to ride an XRL train all the way to Beijing, it will cost 1,077 yuan, but travel time is only eight hours and 56 minutes, compared with 24 hours on the ordinary line,RTHK reported.

Passenger traffic is expected to average 80,100 daily, reaching 90,100 during peak days, and rising further to 95,000 by 2021. All these figures are below the government’s estimate of 109,200 back in 2015.

MTR Corporation has been granted a 10-year service concession to operate the Hong Kong section of the Express Rail Link through the Kowloon-Canton Railway Corporation (KCRC), which is fully owned by the government.

MTR will have to pay HK$2.7 billion a year to KCRC, based on the actual patronage.

Under the contract, the government will have to subsidize the operation if revenue falls short, but Chan said he is optimistic that the chances of the XRL incurring a loss would be minimal.

In a document submitted to the Legislative Council, the Transport and Housing Bureau has lowered the XRL’s estimated internal rate of return to 2 percent, from a previous projection of 4 to 6 percent.

MTR chief executive Lincoln Leong Kwok-kuen said the latest projected cost of the XRL project is about HK$$88.4 billion, adding that it is expected to be profitable during its initial period of operation.

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