Mass-Produced Transit

Last week I finished something that I’ve been working towards ever since I arrived in Hong Kong. I completed a set. I found the last piece of the puzzle. I rode the Ma On Shan Line.


I have now taken a ride on every MTR line in Hong Kong: ticking off the Tsuen Wan line, the Kwun Tong Line, the Island Line, the Tseung Kwan O line, the Tung Chung Line, the Airport Express line, the East Rail line, the West Rail Line and now, yes, the Ma On Shan line. I’ll admit that I’m not counting the Disneyland line which, as you can see from the map above, leads only to one place.

Hong Kong is very proud of its MTR. It carries 5.2 million passengers a day. It has a 99.9% on-time rate. It’s one of the most efficient mass transport systems in the world. But this, to me, is all a bit yadda yadda yadda.

Last year, I took pleasure in writing about the humble tram, the noble Star Ferry and the much-maligned minibus. But I hesitate before celebrating the MTR. Take the name for a start: MTR. Mass Transit Railway. Some cities have a Subway, or a Metro, a U-bahn or an Underground. MTR sounds dull, a bit perfunctory, in comparison.

And the stations don’t help either. They’re clean, modern and safe. They’re brightly lit. The tracks are hidden behind huge glass screens that glide open when a train arrives. There’s never any drunk men peeing in the corner. The only way to each stop apart is by the colour of the tiny tiles on the walls. It’s a long way from the Art Nouveau of the Paris Metropolitaine.


So actually, when I got on my first EVER Ma On Shan line train at Shek Mun station last week, what should have been a momentous occasion was spoiled slightly by the fact that it looked like any of the other 87 MTR stations in Hong Kong. There was no whirring tracks, no flashes of electricity, no dripping water, no strange oily smell, no staring into a black abyss at either end of the platform. Just shiny, polished walls and many, many people.

It’s not that there’s anything wrong with the MTR. It gets you where you want to go quickly and without fuss. Just don’t expect any of the glamour, or the grime, that you might get from other metros, subways or undergrounds.