The MTR, or Mass Transit Railway, is the equivalent of the London Tube and Overground system. It provides the railway services in Hong Kong and is the main mode of public transport when one visits the territory.
(For those of you not familiar with Hong Kong: It is divided into 3 parts - (1) Hong Kong Island, (2) Kowloon peninsula which is attached to (3) New Territories (itself is a part of Mainland China, separated only by a narrow river). HK Island is the earliest to be developed in the 1840s, shortly followed by Kowloon as they are only separated by the Victoria Harbour - crossed by the Star Ferry. The New Territories, despite being a large area of Hong Kong, is relatively unpopulated. It comprises of several outlying islands and the area north of Kowloon. Since the 1970s when the government started finding themselves running out of land for building more high rise flats several "new towns" were developed in the New Territories - today many people live in the NT and have to travel to Kowloon / Hong Kong where the business hub is.)
== the BASICS ==
The MTR was established in 1979, after the colonial government decided it was no longer feasible to provide public transport with buses alone. It has since moved on leaps and bounds and today incorporates over 200km of tracks and 150 stations.
Prior to 2007, the MTR was an underground system only with 6 suburban lines serving the city. In December that year however the MTR and the other railway provider in the territory, the KCR (Kowloon Canton Railway) was merged creating one single huge rapid transit company.
== a very brief HISTORY ==
The MTR started off in 1979 with only 1 line connecting 2 areas in Kowloon. In the next 10 years it gradually extended its tracks to include 2 cross harbour lines - making a total of 3 lines:
Island line = serving Hong Kong Island only: from Sheung Wan to Chai Wan
Tsuen Wan line = cross harbour service: from Central, the Central Business District to Tsuen Wan, one of the suburbs
Kwun Tong line = cross harbour service: from Yau Ma Tei, the main shopping area in Kowloon, to Quarry Bay, a suburb on Hong Kong Island
The next major chapter in the history of MTR was in 1998 was when the new airport opened. The tender to operate the new railroad was awarded to MTR instead of KCR. 2 new lines were built to connect the airport and an accompanying new town which were on one of the outlying islands to Central on Hong Kong Island:
Tung Chung line = crossing the Tsing Ma bridge: from Central to Tung Chung
Airport Express = special airport service: from Central to Airport
Another MTR line was built in 2002 which added 1 urban line to the existing 3. The Kwun Tong line was shortened and now does not cross the harbour. This role was taken over by the new line built to serve another new suburb:
Tseung Kwan O line = cross - harbour service: from Po Lam to North Point (on Hong Kong Island, extended from Quarry Bay)
Disneyland Resort line = special Disneyland service: from Sunny Bay to Disneyland Resort
In 2007 the corporation merged with KCR its major rival (not strictly competitors as they serve different areas) to create a super railway company with more than 15 lines and 200 stations.
East Rail line (built 1910 by KCRC) = connecting Kowloon with China: from Hung Hom, Kowloon to Lo Wu (adjoining Chinese border)
West Rail line (built 2003 by KCRC) = connecting Kowloon with North Western districts: from Nam Cheong to Tuen Mun
Ma On Shan spur line (built 2004 by KCRC) = a spur of the East Rail line serving another suburb
Light Rail lines (built 1988 by KCRC) = series of tram / light rail services in the North Western districts
== the LINES ==
(Urban / Underground lines)
Island line serves the northern part of Hong Kong Island. It runs from Sheung Wan in the Western part of the island to Chai Wan, the Eastern part. It allows tourists to travel in many of the important touristic parts of Island e.g. Central and Causeway Bay (shopping paradise) while also provides local residents of the important link to the MTR network e.g. Heng Fa Tseun. A major part of this line is also served by the famous (cheap) Hong Kong Tram, and so most of the passengers travelling on the (underground) Island line will be wanted to save time (the train travels between one end to the other in a mere 25 minutes - where the tram will probably not even have travelled 2 MTR stations). Bear in mind that the tram costs HK$2 (£0.16 at today's exchange rate) for any length of journey compared to $7.5 (still cheap at £0.59 but nearly 4 times the price) for the MTR from Sheung Wan to Shau Kei Wan, the terminus of the tram.
Tsuen Wan line is arguably MTR's busiest urban line. It connects Central to Tsuen Wan which is on the border between the New Territories and Kowloon. The reason it is busy is twofold: one because it is a cross harbour line meaning that passengers save a lot of time compared to using the ferries or taking the bus via the tunnel (which is always congested), and the second being the area it serves - it literally runs under Nathan Road, HK's favourite shopping street. From Tsim Sha Tsui (the posh shopping area), through Jordan, Yau Ma Tei, Mong Kok (where HK is really famous for its shops) to Sham Shui Po (the computer arcades), every station is literally packed with passengers trying to get on or off. Even the suburban stations are crowded. The time it takes to travel the whole length (30 minutes) and the fare (HK$11.5 = £0.90) compares favourably with other modes of transport like buses.
Kwun Tong line was the least important line for tourists. Its line from Yau Ma Tei to Tiu Keng Leng means it connects suburbs to suburbs and not crossing any harbours. But there is not so anymore - with new shopping malls like APM (Kwun Tong) or Megabox (Kowloon Bay) built along the stations this line is not just for residents anymore. Furthermore tourists may find themselves wanting to visit Sai Kung (the famous fishing and seafood restaurants) or Clear Water Bay (exactly as it says on the tin!) - one will need to change for buses at Diamond Hill MTR station as they are (rightly) not served by trains.
Tseung Kwan O line is the latest urban line to be built. It is mainly for residents only but there are a few shopping malls along the stations (again primarily for people living there). Tourists may find themselves changing trains at Lam Tin station for crossing the harbour from Kwun Tong line.
East Rail line is the oldest line there is. Built in 1910 it was designed to connect HK to China. Along the route there are few things geared for tourists perhaps except the odd temple (Tai Wai) or railway museum (Tai Po). Tourists who want to visit China may consider travelling via this route but it can get expensive (relatively by HK standards) at about HK$43.5 (£3.40) - there is surcharge for travelling to the border stations. The Ma On Shan line is primarily for residents and not really for tourists.
West Rail line, in contrast, may afford a different view of HK. In travelling to the North Western areas, one can look at HK from the ecological point of view and escape from the hustle and bustle from the towns and cities. Despite the fact that this line is built to connect the new towns (again lots of high rise buildings) to the city there are still plenty of nature available to see (e.g Wetland Park - served by Light Rail). Get yourself a West Rail freedom pass - at HK$20 (£1.50) this allows 1 day unlimited travel on the West Rail line, the Light Rail services and its connecting buses (starting with K). Travel to Lau Fau Shan for its famous lobsters or the Gold Coast Resort near Tuen Mun. It's well worth the money and honestly one day is not enough.
Tung Chung line is another suburban line serving the New Territories. It runs parallel to the Airport express and connects the new town just next to the airport to Central on HK Island. With the completion of the Ngong Ping 360 cable car, tourists can visit the Big Buddha if they alight at Tung Chung station and change. Similarly the HK Disneyland is accessible by the Tung Chung line - alight at Sunny Bay station to change for the Disneyland Resort line.
The Airport Express connects the Airport (and AsiaWorld Expo, an exhibition centre built right next to the Airport) to Central. It is relatively expensive at $100 a pop (£7.82) but still no way near the extortionate prices charged by the likes of Heathrow Express. For the budget traveller, in order to save a few quid they can choose the E buses to travel to town from the airport. It takes longer but travels around affording good views of the city. To save money AND be quick, take the S1 bus (HK$3.5) from the airport to Tung Chung (about 15 minutes) and take the Tung Chung line to town ($20.5), the total price of HK$24 saving yourself HK$76 for other things with only about 10 - 20 minutes delay.
== the TICKETS ==
The MTR offers lots of ticket options. I have already mentioned above about the West Rail freedom pass, valid only for the West Rail line (and Light Rail). Most residents (or probably tourists should) have an Octopus card - similar to Oyster in London. It is a no-touch stored value card accepted universally in HK for anything - MTR, buses, star ferry, vending machines, convenience stores, restaurants etc. MTR fares are cheaper with the Octopus card.
There is also a tourist option - not as flexible as offerings from European towns and cities and there are only 2 choices. The touristic pass is HK$55 (£4.30) and allows unlimited travel on all trains except Airport Express, First Class on East Rail, travel to Chinese border stations; while the Airport Express pass is HK$220 / HK$300 (£17.18 / £23.43) and allows 1 or 2 journeys on the AE and 3 days' unlimited train travel. Please bear in mind that this does not include buses (and may work out even more expensive London's Underground) - so getting an Octopus may be better.
== CONCLUSION ==
The MTR has its pros and cons. It is cheap and frequent (one train in 2 minutes) but it can be very crowded and you lose out on the views (especially on the urban lines). However it is indeed very convenient and I would recommend lots of travelling on the MTR when you travel to HK. You would definitely travel on other modes of transport too but the MTR is an essential. Even the locals think so - property prices in HK (notoriously expensive) is literally based on how far your flat is from the MTR station!
The MTR (Mass Transit Railway) is the equivalent of the Tube in Hong Kong. It is mostly an underground rail service with the odd overground station.
The MTR is by far the easiest way (apart from taxi) to get around Hong Kong. It is clean, cheap, efficient and you never have to wait more than 10 minutes for the next train - usually it's no more than 3-4 minutes. It is also reliable and safe - the only thing you should really be aware of is pick pocketing which one should always be aware of when travelling in crowded places.
Many MTR stations are connected to major shopping centres, attractions and hotels, or are at least very near by which makes it very easy for tourists to get around. MTR stations are well labelled and all signs are in English as well as Chinese and the staff mostly speak English so language is not an issue.
MTR stations typically have a selection of small shops e.g. Seven Eleven, Maxim's Cakes, Herbal tea shops, snack places and so forth.
n.b. Although food is sold at stations, eating and drinking beyond the barriers and on the trains is a no no as fines are in place for people doing so. Littering is also a big no no.
You can also catch an MTR train straight from the airport called the Airport Express and if you want to venture further, you can explore Kowloon and the New Territories and some MTR lines run near to the border with Mainland China.
The main options are:
1.Individual tickets - a ticket from A to B, wherever your chosen destination is.
2.Octopus cards - similar to Oyster cards in London. Octopus cards are topped up at stations (either at a machine or ticket office) and are simple swiped when you enter and leave the barriers at a station and the cost of the fare is automatically deducted. They are incredibly convenient and a bit cheaper than buying individual tickets. You will see many locals simply swiping their bags at the barriers - they place their Octopus cards on the inside pocket of their handbag so they can just scan their bag and go.
Octopus cards can also be used to pay for taxis, bus fares, trams, groceries in a number of stores e.g. Park n Shop, Seven Eleven, Wellcome to name a few. Octopus cards can also be used to pay in food outlets including Mc Donalds, Starbucks and many more.
The MTR is very user friendly, convenient, inexpensive and great for tourists. If you're used to UK trains and tubes you will find this a completely different experience!