Almost 8,500 people travelled on the high-speed railway between Hong Kong and mainland China on Sunday, the first day of the service restarting after a three-year Covid hiatus.

West Kowloon station on Jan. 16, 2023, the first day of high-speed rail services between Hong Kong and the mainland resuming. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

West Kowloon Station, the Hong Kong terminus, saw eager travellers stream in and out throughout the day. Travellers told local media their journeys were smooth, with manageable wait times and minimal crowds.

Immigration Department figures from Sunday showed that 4,719 people arrived in Hong Kong through the border checkpoint located at West Kowloon Station, while 3,729 exited to travel north. The total number of passengers – 8,448 – fell short of the daily 10,000-person limit.

Some shops and restaurants at the station remain closed.

West Kowloon station on Jan. 16, 2023, the first day of high-speed rail services between Hong Kong and the mainland resuming. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

Ticket sales for the high-speed railway resumed on Thursday, with up to 5,000 tickets a day each way. There are currently 38 trains departing from Hong Kong daily in the initial stages of the resumption, allowing passengers to travel to Shenzhen, Dongguan and Guangzhou.

Tickets to the mainland have largely sold out for the next two weeks, which covers the Lunar New Year holiday. Routes to Guangzhou East, Guangzhou South, Dongguan and Dongguan South stations are among those that are unavailable until the last Sunday of the month, the China Railway website showed.

West Kowloon station on Jan. 16, 2023, the first day of high-speed rail services between Hong Kong and the mainland resuming. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

Routes to Hong Kong, however, offered more availability.

Opened in 2018, the West Kowloon station became the latest border checkpoints to reopen since quarantine-free travel was restarted between Hong Kong and mainland China last Sunday. China’s border reopening comes amid a nationwide surge in Covid infections after Beijing speedily axed anti-epidemic restrictions.

Almost 60,000 Covid-related deaths were recorded in just over a month, the first official toll released by authorities since restrictions were loosened.

West Kowloon station on Jan. 16, 2023, the first day of high-speed rail services between Hong Kong and the mainland resuming. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

Currently, people in mainland China can travel to Hong Kong via land ports including the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge, Shenzhen Bay, Lok Ma Chau and Man Kam To, the latter two of which were restarted last week, in addition to by flying in or taking ferries.

West Kowloon station on Jan. 16, 2023, the first day of high-speed rail services between Hong Kong and the mainland resuming. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

While quarantine requirements have been dropped, people travelling in either direction must still obtain a negative result from a Covid-19 PCR test taken within 48 hours of departure.

‘On the road to normalcy’

A number of lawmakers who boarded the high-speed train in Hong Kong on Sunday praised the service’s efficiency. They also called on authorities to increase the frequency of trains, as well as the number of destinations served.

West Kowloon station on Jan. 16, 2023, the first day of high-speed rail services between Hong Kong and the mainland resuming. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

Lawmaker Andrew Lam wrote in a Sunday evening post that it was his first time in Guangzhou in three years.

“Hong Kong is embarking on the road to normalcy. Different checkpoints are about to be fully reopened… [I] hope the high-speed rail can resume its medium- and long-haul services to make it more convenient for citizens to travel to and from the mainland,” Lam said.

Legislator Michael Tien urged the government to increase the number of available tickets from 5,000 to 8,000 per day from Wednesday leading up to Lunar New Year.

West Kowloon station on Jan. 16, 2023, the first day of high-speed rail services between Hong Kong and the mainland resuming. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

Tien added that the high-speed rail service to the new Guangdong East station was “not very high speed,” taking up to an hour and 50 minutes – a duration he said was similar to the MTR’s intercity passenger service that used to depart from Hung Hom station. The intercity trains have been suspended since Covid-19, and will not be restarted, local media reported.

The lawmaker said authorities could consider setting up an express route with fewer stops to Guangdong East.

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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.