The MTR Corporation has been awarded a ten-year operation agreement for the high-speed rail link which will start operating on Sunday, September 23.

The HK$84.4 billion Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link, built by the MTRC, will have services to six short-haul destinations and 38 long-haul destinations, including newly announced locations such as Shantou and Shaoguan. The details were unveiled on Thursday following four months of trial runs.

Short-haul trains to the six short-haul destinations will range in cost from HK$78, for journeys to Futian – to HK$247, for journeys to Guangzhou South. For long-haul destinations, it will cost HK$216 to travel to Shantou, HK$1,159 to Shanghai and HK$1,239 to Beijing.

Express Rail Link
From left: MTRC Operations Director Adi Lau, MTRC CEO Lincoln Leong, Secretary for Transport and Housing Frank Chan, Deputy Secretary for Transport and Housing (Transport) Kevin Choi.

The MTRC will pay HK$2.7 billion to the Kowloon–Canton Railway Corporation – which holds the rail system’s assets – as a fee to operate the rail link. However, CEO Lincoln Leong said he expected the project to make a profit within the starting period of operation.

Deputy Secretary for Transport and Housing (Transport) Kevin Choi said the latest estimated number of passengers will be 72,500 per weekday; 78,100 on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays; and 90,100 during peak periods.

Asked by reporters as to why the number was lower than previous government estimates, Choi said it was “more responsible” to consider a more conservative figure.

Transport chief Frank Chan said the government was confident that the service will not incur losses.

“From the very conservative projection, we are taking 80,000-plus passengers a day for the year 2018. Given such a low patronage, we are still making a reasonable return,” Chan said. And therefore, if we are expecting more patronage in the future, then the probability of incurring a loss would be rather minimal, I would say.”

mtr express rail link
Photo: MTRC.

The MTRC has reached an agreement with China Railway whereby it will receive a different ratio of the revenue depending on the distance.

For instance, the Hong Kong side will receive HK$74 from the HK$78 fares for trains to Futian, and it will receive HK$112 from the HK$247 fares for Guangzhou South trains.

Infrequent direct trains

Between Monday and Thursday, there will be 70 pairs of short-haul trains. There will be 82 pairs between Friday and Sunday. During the peak period, there will be 114 pairs.

Trains to Futian and Shenzhen North will depart every ten to 20 minutes; those to Guangzhou South will depart every 15 to 30 minutes.

For long-haul trains, there will be only one north-bound train per day for most destinations. Trains to Shanghai will take eight hours and 17 minutes; trains to Beijing will take eight hours and 56 minutes.

Express Rail Link
Only one north-bound train per day will depart for most destinations. Photo: Screenshot.

There will be three pairs of direct trains to Guangzhou South per day, which will take 47 minutes. Other trains to the station – which will stop at intermediate stations – will take between 50 and 71 minutes.

Choi said there were only three pairs directly to Guangzhou South since the mainland train schedule was very busy: “It was lucky for us to get three.”

It will take 46 minutes on a metro train from Guangzhou South to reach Guangzhou East, the city’s business centre. The existing train to Guangzhou East takes around two hours and cost HK$210.

mtr express rail link station
Photo: MTRC.

Choi said the Express Rail Link will be “competitive” when compared to the existing train service.

Plagued by delays and cost overruns, a public “free ticket” day will be held on Sunday, September 2.

Kris Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist with an interest in local politics. His work has been featured in Washington Post, Public Radio International, Hong Kong Economic Times and others. He has a BSSc in Sociology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Kris is HKFP's Editorial Director.