Saturday, December 28, 2013

HKTrip13 - Inside the MTR

One of the things that impressed me the most on my previous visits to Hong Kong was the MTR system.

Whether it was the grand scale of the architecture, the novelty of the facilities (i.e. trains behind automated barrier doors, standing-room only transport, an interconnected underground network for getting from nearly one place to another without having to face the wind and the rain), or the brutal efficiency of the whole system as hordes of people are carted off in waves up and down escalators, on and off carriages, and in and out of the city in general. I also lamented at the time not really getting any shots of any of it - partly out of being unsure whether photography was allowed down there, but also since the speed that the crowds moved at made hauling a camera out slightly hazardous. Not this time though!

The Platforms

Many of the platforms have a semi tubular design, where it looks kindof like they're built inside a tunnel. Pictured here is the Wan Chai platform, which is themed in light green.

People wait on the platform to get on a train that has just arrived. The yellow lights indicate when the doors are open (they're situated above the door openings), and stretch out as far as the eye can see. On the overhead panel, you can also see a simplified map of the line that is served by the particular train. Here we see the Tsim Sha Tsui station and the line to Central (one of the two lines which allow travel over to Hong Kong island).

These signs basically tell people to let others off before boarding yourself. The arrows on the floor are meant to guide people where to stand so as to not cause traffic snarfus.

Inside the Carriages

Inside the carriages, there is standing room only, with many people clinging to whatever supports they can get their hands on (to avoid flying around the place when the train stops or accelerates). However, you'll also see many locals just idly standing around, totally engrossed in poking and prodding their smartphones (typically large Samsung Notes, though a few still use iPhones).

Hint to HCI researchers interested in ethnographic research: the Hong Kong subway is an absolute treasure trove of subjects to observe, since you're practically in close contact with everyone else around you, with nearly unimpeded sight lines to their screens (i.e. to get their screens in a comfortable position for their own viewing, they must hold their phones in a such a way that it also means comfortable viewing for you too).

As can be seen, it's usually quite jam-packed in there. Most of the interior decor is stainless steel, apart from the panelling around the joints (i.e. the white-ish panels/blocks closet to the camera). The people pictured here are practically standing on top of the swivelling steel plates joining the carriages together, and you can often observe these twisting and sliding past each other.

The MTR system features hundreds of escalators for efficiently moving large waves of people between different floors of the stations. Often, there are multiple escalators in a row lined up, half going up, the other half down. This leads to some grand-looking sights...

 Central - Going Down
Central - Going Up

Wan Chai - Going down. Notice how the different stations have different colour schemes. Also note the size of these massive pillars!

These escalator tubes are also prime real-estate for advertising. Here, the escalators in Tsim Sha Tsui station have been completely plastered over by a particular company's advertising campaign.

An Underground Network
An interconnecting walking passage/tunnel for people to get around efficiently without being held ransom by the weather. Pictured here is a connecting passage between the "East Tsim Sha Tsui station" and the "Tsim Sha Tsui" station. It runs parallel to Salisbury Road (i.e. the main horizontal road running parallel to the harbour along Tsim Sha Tsui - basically the road that the Peninsula, Space Museum, and Cultural Centre all lie on).

Here is a map showing the underground network, and how it can be used to access various parts of Tsim Sha Tsui. Note that the Tsim Sha Tsui station, running along/under Nathan Road is one of the more useful ones for getting across the sea.

Rush Hour
One of the things you have to experience is the rush hour crunch. One of the things you do not really want to experience (again) is the rush hour crunch.

Rush hour crunch at the Admirality station, for the Tsuen-Wan line back to Tsim Sha Tsui. The crowd waiting to get on is about 8-10 people deep, and spreads all the way right up and down the platform. Making matters worse is that the trains are already somewhat packed by this stage, meaning that hardly anyone manages to get on. However, to compensate, new trains come in nearly once every 10-20 seconds.

Rush hour goes from somewhere around 5pm to around 7:30pm. During this time, it seems many people are either getting off from work, or perhaps heading back to the office to wrap things up (since many people these days end up working till 7/8:30 in the evenings). Even though it's a bit quieter on the weekends, in reality, it's still quite bad (i.e. perhaps only 5 rows of people instead of 10).

As a tourist, this is quite an interesting experience that lets you really get a feel for the throng of people and the pulse of the city. Not so good though if you're a local or an outbreak of something contagious starts spreading around the place though! I'd also not recommend this if you are "elderly or infirm" - it's quite a brutal and rather "physical" exercise, and you'll often be left feeling like sardines being pushed through a toothpaste tube into the carriage by the people being you trying to get in, and the people already inside trying to resist getting flattened into the walls and poles.

This time, we had to wait for about 5 or so trains before there was finally enough space for all of us to get packed inside one of the trains. Getting out again is a whole other challenge, and sometimes may involve those standing by the doors having to get out and back on again later.

Another interesting aspect of the rush hour experience is that the tracks are fully illuminated during this time. Usually the lights are off, but during rush hour, they turn these on, allowing you to clearly see the internals of the tracks and the various cables and pipes running around. Presumably these are safety measures to help detect the grisly situations when people get accidentally pushed off the platforms into the tracks...

Another interesting safety/crowd control measure they adopt is to hire a bunch of wardens to stick our "stop" paddles to block the crowd from trying to squeeze into the carriages when they're already full to capacity. Check Flickr for some shots of these guys and girls at work!

Central Station
The central station acts as a mega hub for various lines. As such, it is one of the more complicated and confusing stations in the whole network.

Above ground, it is connected to the IFC mall, and features a grand lobby...
 The Central station shares a building with an Apple Store...

Grand lobby for Central Station. This is a multi-storey building, with very impressive vertical space and interesting architectural details.

An elevator spanning multiple levels.

Below ground, it is equally impressive. When heading to the Tung Chung line (for the Big Buddha or Disneyland), you'll pass through a few grand looking halls...
This one has sloped travellators on either end, and a massive channel down the middle. Yes the floor is sloped from one end to the other.

This one is multiple storeys high. The vertical space here is really attractive.

During off-peak times, the need for such space seems a bit strange, but still nice nevertheless. However, it's need becomes all too apparent during rush hour!

Swarms o people, heading in every which way. Everywhere.

Wow! It was quite a sight. Even more so when still suffering from the after effects of an allergy scare!

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