Riding the Light Rail

Yuen Long

Compared to Hong Kong or Kowloon, the northwest part of the New Territories feels like a city apart, an earthier, more workaday place. Much of that has to do with its geography and urban development, a low-rise sprawl of villages, farms and subdivisions that runs the length of a wide, flat valley, with two highrise town centres on either end: Yuen Long and Tuen Mun. But part of it also comes from the spine of area’s transportation network, a unique light rail system built in the 1980s.

Although the northwest New Territories is the longest-settled part of Hong Kong, with some villages dating back more than 700 years, it was only in the 1970s that its population began to expand in earnest. After the success of Tsuen Wan, Shatin and other early New Towns—highrise satellite cities built to contain Hong Kong’s swelling population—Yuen Long and Tuen Mun were identified as two more nodes for development. There was just one problem: access. The road network simply wouldn’t be capable of absorbing the kind of population density government planners envisioned, so they decided some kind of rail system would be necessary. Construction began in 1985 and finished just three years later.

I paid a visit to Yuen Long last December. Riding the light rail was one of the goals of my trip. What I encountered was a late-generation light rail system (like the C-Train in Calgary or MAX in Portland, rather than the streetcars of Toronto or tramway of Hong Kong Island) with nine lines serving 68 stations. It boggles the mind to think that a network that would form the backbone of any medium-sized city’s public transit system is completely forgotten by most people in Hong Kong, except those who use it.

You can tell by riding the light rail that it is a purely local mode of transportation. After boarding at the Yuen Long West Rail station (a stop on a new metro line that opened in 2003, partly to reduce congestion on the light rail), we passed through Yuen Long town centre, picking up passengers bound for the villages and housing estates strung out along the route. By the time we reached the outskirts of Tuen Mun, the train was packed with teenagers in school uniforms and more old people than I’d ever seen on any single bus or MTR train. The journey took a little over thirty minutes from end to end. Nobody seemed in too much of a hurry.

Tuen Mun

Tuen Mun

This entry was written by Christopher DeWolf , posted on Sunday March 22 2009at 07:03 am , filed under Asia Pacific, Transportation and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

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