25 May 2019
MTR needs to iron out some issues quickly to ensure smooth processing of high-speed rail passengers at the West Kowloon Station. Photo: Reuters
MTR needs to iron out some issues quickly to ensure smooth processing of high-speed rail passengers at the West Kowloon Station. Photo: Reuters

MTR, govt have their work cut out to meet expectations on XRL

The Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link (XRL) finally went into operation on Sunday, September 23.

Even though passengers were by and large satisfied with the new cross-border transport link in terms of the comforts offered by the luxury train compartments, as well as the convenience and speed of the rail service, the XRL debut did run into several technical problems, and drew fire from some angry passengers.

We believe the government and the MTR must both address the problems and resolve them as soon as possible so as to improve the overall quality of the service and draw more passengers. That will help authorities ward off criticism and the negative prophecy that XRL is nothing more than a “white elephant project”.

The first problem which the public are rather concerned about is the maximum size of passengers’ carry-on luggage allowed on XRL trains.

Some passengers complained that they were told by MTR staff that their carry-on luggage exceeded the maximum size allowed by the rules, and were denied boarding unless they agreed to take all of their personal items out of their suitcases and then pack them in plastic striped woven bags provided by the MTR.

Caught completely off guard, the passengers were unhappy with the restrictions on the luggage size.

To be fair, we understand that as part of a nationwide high-speed rail network, the XRL is also subject to the consistent luggage size restrictions as those enforced by the mainland.

Nevertheless, since the new rail service is all about providing a convenient and fast travel experience for passengers, there is a necessity for the MTR to address this concern and work out a more flexible approach on this matter in consultation with mainland authorities.

Apart from the dispute over luggage size, quite a number of passengers complained that most of the ticket-dispensing machines were malfunctioning.

As a result, they were unable to get the tickets which they had booked online beforehand, and were forced to spend over an hour waiting in long queues to obtain their tickets.

MTR managed to resolve the ticketing glitch by immediately devising special measures. It is understandable that the large and sophisticated ticketing systems of Hong Kong and the mainland will need some time to be fully integrated.

It is hoped, however, that the “grace” period will be ended quickly.

All in all, nothing went terribly wrong on Sunday, and MTR sold 71,000 tickets as of 5 pm on that day, which is pretty close to the estimated 80,000. However, there is definitely no room for complacency as far as the rail operator is concerned.

It is because the public have such high hopes for the XRL not only in terms of the convenience delivered to Hongkongers, but also its capacity to generate huge economic and social benefits for Hong Kong.

As such, both the administration and the MTR certainly have a lot of work cut out to ensure that the public’s expectations are met.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Sept 24

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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