Hundreds of railway fans in Hong Kong bid farewell to the last 12-car electric train on Friday, as the decades-old East Rail Line vehicle was retired ahead of the opening of a new station.

Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

The Hung Hom MTR station was unusually packed on Friday afternoon when train fanatics gathered at the platform to hop on the last ride of a Mid-Life Refurbishment Train (MLR-train). Many brought cameras, placards and other souvenirs to mark the final journey of this cherished train model that has operated in the city since 1997.

The 12 train compartments were crammed, as many people recorded the trip from Hung Hom to Sha Tin, where the train was parked for two hours for rail fans and passengers to admire the iconic “fly headed” vehicle for the last time.

A MLR-train compartment filled with railway fans and passengers as they enjoy the last journey on the 12-car vehicle on May 6, 2022. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

Many people waited in line to take photos with the front and back of the train, which vaguely resembles an insect’s head. Some also whipped out MLR-train replicas, postcards and old leaflets that documented the introduction of the fleet more than two decades ago, when it was still managed by the Kowloon–Canton Railway Corporation.

A model of the MLR-train. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

The train, which ran on the line that stretches from Hong Kong’s border with China to the city’s Kowloon side, was gradually phased out in light of the new cross-harbour Sha Tin to Central Link that will open next Sunday. The farewell ceremony on Friday marked exactly 40 years since the predecessor of the MLR-train – the First Generation Electric Multiple Unit Train – went into service in Hong Kong.

Railway fans take photos of model MLR-trains as they bid farewell to the 12-car vehicle on May 6, 2022. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

MLR-trains played an “indispensable” role in facilitating the city’s development and connecting people’s lives, MTR Operations Director Tony Lee said on Friday. He led the crowd at Sha Tin station to sing “Happy Birthday” to the retired train fleet and thanked its service over the years.

People take photos inside the first class compartment on a MLR-train. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

“The MLR-trains will be retired as the East Rail Line cross-harbour extension passenger service will commence soon. But the successor trains will carry on their dedicated spirit while providing a ‘smarter’ and more extended railway service to Hong Kong Island for passengers,” Lee said. Railway fans clapped and cheered in response.

Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

Aaron Kei, founder of rail fan group Train Not Arriving, told HKFP that the MLR-train was a “collective memory” for a lot of Hongkongers, especially those who lived along the East Rail Line. The 28-year-old said he was pleased with the retirement ceremony arrangement, with the MTR Corporation putting up decorations and playing train announcements that briefly introduced the history of the train.

“It was quite thoughtful,” he said.

Aaron Kei of railfan group Train Not Arriving. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

Mr and Mrs Yip were among those who took a day off from work to join the affectionate send-off. They also brought their four-year-old daughter who became a train fan after watching British cartoon series Thomas & Friends, and gave her a compact camera to take snapshots of the vehicle.

Mr and Mrs Yip bring their daughter to the farewell ceremony of the MLR-train on May 6, 2022. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

Both Mr and Mrs Yip said they had travelled on MLR-trains since they were children. Years later, the train remained their primary transportation, and they wanted their daughter to have fond memories of the vehicle.

“The retirement of the train is like the end of an era,” Mrs Yip said, while Mr Yip added he was glad that the Covid-19 pandemic had eased over the past few weeks, allowing the farewell ceremony to go ahead.

A MTR staff standing inside a MLR-train. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

At 3 p.m., railway fans raised their cameras and phones to film the MLR-train slowly leaving the station. Many chanted “thank you” and applauded until the “fly head” train end vanished from sight.

People take photos of the MLR-train on its last day of service on May 6, 2022. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

The MTR said the retired train fleet would be handled “in a sustainable way” under the Legacy Train Revitalisation Programme, which would donate train parts to different community partners for education purposes.

Support press freedom & help us surpass 1,000 monthly Patrons: 100% independent, governed by an ethics code & not-for-profit, Hong Kong Free Press is #PressingOn with impartial, award-winning, frontline coverage.

Kelly Ho

Kelly Ho has an interest in local politics, education and sports. She formerly worked at South China Morning Post Young Post, where she specialised in reporting on issues related to Hong Kong youth. She has a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong, with a second major in Politics and Public Administration.