Cross-border train connecting mainland, HK starts trial; services expected to resume in three stages
Published: Jan 03, 2023 10:40 PM
West Kowloon Station of the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link in Hong Kong File photo: VCG

West Kowloon Station of the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link in Hong Kong File photo: VCG

A high-speed railway connecting the Chinese mainland and Hong Kong started a trial run on Tuesday, a signal of the resumption of cross-border travel. Ticket sales will start three days before the official date fixed for reopening, and the resumption of rail service will be realized in three stages, with short-haul journeys to be restored first, the Global Times learned. 

"A number of staff have already returned to work at the West Kowloon High-speed Rail station to start preparations for the re-launch of cross-border trains," said the MTR's head of the cross-boundary segment Cheung Chi-keung on Monday.

"We will start a trial period (on Tuesday), including West Kowloon Station, Lo Wu Station and Lok Ma Chau Station, to check the railway equipment is working smoothly," he said.

"We are now cooperating with the government, and tickets will be available for purchase three days before the official announcement of the date of border reopening," MTR Corp, operator of the railway, told the Global Times on Tuesday.

Hong Kong lawmaker Michael Tien Puk-sun, a former chairman of the Kowloon-Canton Railway Corp, told the Global Times on Tuesday that tickets will be available at the earliest on Thursday if normal travel is due to resume by January 8. 

He said he learned from sources that the railway service will be resumed in three stages, with the first stage starting with short trips to cities including Shenzhen and Guangzhou, then medium-distance journeys like to Wuhan and Changsha, and then long-haul services to cities such as Beijing.

The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) government is striving to gradually resume normal travel with the Chinese mainland at the latest by January 8, Chief Secretary for Administration Eric Chan Kwok-ki said on Sunday.

Chan, who chairs a cross-disciplinary coordination group on the resumption of quarantine-free travel, said that initially, a quota will be set for those traveling between Hong Kong and the mainland. The government will also gradually increase land, air and sea traffic flows between the two sides.

Tien expected that the daily quota will be 30,000 to 50,000 people from Hong Kong to the mainland in early stages, as the city needs time to restore the capacity of hosting an influx of passengers from the mainland. The lawmaker expected the quota to be gradually scrapped by the middle of February at the latest. 

In order to ensure smooth customs clearance, Hong Kong's Customs and Excise Department has established a High-Level Command Center, led by a deputy commissioner, to coordinate and steer matters relating to the preparations and initial implementation of the resumption plan, a spokesperson of the department told the Global Times in an email last week.

At individual control points, checking of customs clearance facilities and testing of the necessary systems and inspection equipment have been completed, said the spokesperson, adding that frontline officers redeployed previously to reinforce other customs duties and anti-pandemic work have been sent back to their original posts at the control points and are undergoing familiarization programs as well as training and drills related to passenger clearance.

The department will also strengthen publicity efforts, including the launch of promotional campaigns on social media and distributing leaflets to remind the public and mainland tourists about regulations on the import and export of controlled and prohibited items.

An official from the customs department said last month that the department will advise mainland travelers not to bring excessive medicines such as painkillers, as the surging number of infections in the mainland has caused temporary shortages of medicines such as ibuprofen and pills for flu treatment.