Ticket sales for Hong Kong’s high-speed railway to mainland China have opened ahead of the service resuming this weekend, with up to 5,000 tickets a day each way on offer.

Long queues of people waiting to buy high-speed rail tickets to mainland China at West Kowloon station on Jan. 12, 2022. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

Long queues at West Kowloon Station – the Hong Kong terminus – built up from around noon, two hours before ticket sales began there.

Long queues of people waiting to buy high-speed rail tickets to mainland China at West Kowloon station on Jan. 12, 2023. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

The resumption of the high-speed rail link service follows a three-year hiatus due to Covid-19. The mainland reopened its borders last Sunday, allowing travellers to enter without undergoing quarantine for the first time since early 2020.

West Kowloon Station on Jan. 12, 2022. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

Passengers will be able to travel to Shenzhen, Dongguan and Guangzhou in the initial stages of the resumption. There will be 38 trains departing from Hong Kong daily, or about half the frequency before Covid-19.

Long queues of people waiting to buy high-speed rail tickets to mainland China at West Kowloon station on Jan. 12, 2023. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

“We will review the operation flow and tourist demand soon after reopening to see if we need to sell more tickets and add more trains, including long-haul ones,” Secretary for Transport and Logistics Lam Sai-hung told reporters at West Kowloon Station.

West Kowloon Station on Jan. 12, 2023. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

Travellers in Hong Kong can also buy tickets at the China Railway website or through travel agents.

Limit of 10,000 tickets ‘not enough’

As of 4 p.m., tickets to a number of stations were already sold out for the first week, the China Railway website showed.

The China Railway website showing high-speed rail tickets to Guangzhou East Station all sold out on Sunday, the first day of services restarting. Screenshot: 12306.cn.

The earliest available travel date for Guangzhou east and Guangzhou south was January 23, with even first-class tickets all snapped up. Travellers can opt to join a waiting list for the sold- out routes.

Long queues of people waiting to buy high-speed rail tickets to mainland China at West Kowloon station on Jan. 12, 2023. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

Lawmaker Michael Tien said the daily cap of 10,000 tickets was not enough, particularly in the case of travel to Guangzhou east, which he described as the city centre of Guangzhou and the most in-demand destination. He urged the government to double the number of trains daily – currently standing at six – to Guangzhou east, RTHK reported.

A woman and her son buying high-speed rail tickets at West Kowloon station on Jan. 12, 2023. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

The West Kowloon station has been shut since January 30, 2020. It was briefly brought back into service last June 30 and July 1, when Chinese leader Xi Jinping visited Hong Kong to mark the 25th anniversary of the Handover.

Border reopening

Quarantine-free travel between Hong Kong and the mainland restarted last Sunday, a long-awaited milestone for both places which had maintained strict Covid-19 rules since the start of the pandemic. It comes despite a nationwide surge in Covid infections after Beijing speedily axed anti-epidemic restrictions.

A number of border checkpoints were reopened, including the crossing at Lok Ma Chau MTR station.

Lok Ma Chau MTR station on Jan. 8, the first day of Hong Kong’s border reopening with China. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

Through an online booking system, Hong Kong can accept a maximum of 50,000 mainland visitors per day via land ports, which include Lok Ma Chau, Man Kam To, the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge and Shenzhen Bay. Meanwhile, the quota for travellers to China via the same ports is 60,000.

The dates for travelling to mainland China via the land ports leading up to Lunar New Year, which starts on Sunday January 22, are already largely booked up.

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Hillary Leung

Hillary has an interest in social issues and politics. Previously, she reported on Asia broadly - including on Hong Kong's 2019 protests - for TIME Magazine and covered local news at Coconuts Hong Kong.