Fast rail going places after passing test

Editorial | Mary Ma 3 Oct 2018

The Express Rail Link has largely survived the tests posed by its first week of operations. There were incidents, but these were teething problems expected of an opening of a major railway station.

The airport experienced an even more chaotic start in 1998 after relocating from Kai Tak. And Chek Lap Kok is now among the world's top-ranked international airports.

So, MTR Corporation chairman Frederick Ma Si-hang wasn't standing in quick sand when he expressed little concern for the present but plenty for what users may think 10 years from now.

Hiccups reported in the past week centered mainly on ticketing as travelers had to spend a long time queuing to get tickets for destinations in the hinterland. But ticketing is a technical issue and can be overcome with goodwill from both sides.

As in the situation with the "one country, two systems" setup, there are bound to be glitches due to two different systems.

Staffed counters are useful but not as convenient as self-service ticketing machines. The MTRC is installing additional machines integrated with the mainland's ticketing system. The situation will only improve as each day passes, and after travelers and staff become familiar with operations at the West Kowloon terminus, the teething problems will gradually disappear.

However, it's interesting to notice complaints by mainland passengers about MTRC restrictions on large baggage. In theory, the baggage issue should have never surfaced, since the same mainland standards have been adopted by the corporation.

The only possible explanation for incidents that baggage allowed onboard in the mainland have been barred in Hong Kong is the standards exist in name only in the mainland, and haven't been enforced up north.

Should the MTRC follow suit and turn a blind eye to them? No, they must never. Instead, they should raise the issue with their mainland partner.

On the first day, a total of 75,517 passengers traveled in and out of Hong Kong via the express rail, a few thousand customers below expectations. Regrettably, the numbers dropped on subsequent days, only to rebound later - riding on the National Day golden week travel fever - to a level nearly reaching the daily target of 80,000 passengers.

About 70 percent of passengers were mainlanders, so it's evident SAR commuters are still weighing the pros and cons of traveling on the high-speed trains.

There's no question the express rail holds greater appeal for medium-haul travelers rather than short-haul. If more mainland cities of medium distance from Hong Kong are served by direct express trains from West Kowloon, would more Hongkongers be amenable to switching over to them?

Passenger statistics show that while occupancy of inbound trains has been satisfactory, it hasn't been the same with the outbound service. Greater marketing efforts are needed to fill the outbound cars.

Not surprisingly, political noise over the co-location immigration and customs clearance has subsided since the September 23 launch. The public is more concerned over whether the express rail offers a practical means to suit their travel needs, rather than the issue of immigration clearance.

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