[as of 2016 ]
British Colony from:
Transfer to China: 1997
Population: 7 234 800 (2014)
Location: Hong Kong
Operator: Hong Kong Tramways Ltd.
(Owned by Veolia Transport – RATP Asia)
System opened: 1904
Gauge: 1067 mm
Track length: 30,0 km. (one-way)
All-time maximum track length: 46,0 km. (1973)
Number of routes: 6
Daily ridership: 180 000 (2015)
Vehicles: 163 passenger cars; 3 service cars
The double-decker trams of Hong Kong have become somewhat of a legend and a symbol of the city, as well a major tourist attraction. The trams are sometimes called the "Ding Ding". The trams operate within the Hong Kong Island part of the city only, considered the Central part of the Hong Kong proper, running parallel to the island’s northern coastline. Since 2010 the tram system is owned and operated by the Veolia Transport RATP Asia – a public transit operator conglomerate of the French origin.
The entire system is double-tracked with loops at terminals, thus the operation is essentially single-ended. There are a number of crossovers between tracks for emergencies. Trams mostly operate in mixed traffic, however, there are many stretches of track within dedicated transit lanes, and a few segments of physically dedicated right-of-way. The majority of tram stops are equipped with refuge island platforms. The stops are located relatively close to one another, sometimes within as little as 250 m., making trams always available for a quick hop-on at any point on the line.
There are six major overlapping services, operating between seven designated terminals. However, short turns and runs between terminals that are not associated with officially designated routes are possible. A combined headway between services during peak hours is as low as 90 seconds, which practically comes down to a length of a phase of an average traffic signal cycle. On the western outer segment to Kennedy Town the minimum headway is about 4-5 minutes, while on the eastern outer segment to Shau Kei Wan the minimum headway is about 3 minutes. Short intervals between trams mean that a slightest delay leads to bunching, which could quickly accumulate down the line in geometric progression. Hence, trams often operate in ‘waves’ with intervals between clusters of trams stretching into many minutes. Trams often intentionally operate bunched up in twos and threes, which makes jobs of follower tram drivers easier. The threes arrangement is particularly popular, as three trams fit within a standard tram stop. Consequently crowding occurs on front trams, while followers run relatively empty. Trams often follow one another very close, within a few meters, which provides for an abstracted view from the coveted popular front seats on the second deck of the follower trams in up to 2/3 of the cases.
The tram is the cheapest mode of public transport in Hong Kong. The current fare is HK$2.30 for adults, HK$1.20 for children under 12 y.o, and HK$1.10 for senior citizens 65 y.o. and above. Unlike most other forms of public transport in Hong Kong, a standard fare applies regardless of the distance traveled. The payment is accepted upon alighting by either depositing coins into the farebox (no change is given), or by tapping the electronic payment card on the processor. Fare evasion is controlled by a closed circuit television cameras. The trams are equipped with one-way turnstiles (older trams) or gates (newer trams) by the entry doors. The trams are always boarded through the rear door, and exited through the front door, almost literally through driver's cab.
The trams are capable of reaching speeds up to 50-60 km/h, but due to many stops and traffic lights average speeds are low. This becomes a nuisance in case of long distance travel. The trams are mostly patronized by the following three distinctive groups of customers: average passengers on short distance hop-on hop-off trips; noticeably poorer customers taking advantage of low fares with no distance traveled restrictions; and tourists. The Island Metro Line of the MTR runs roughly parallel for the entire length of the main west-east tram line, and attracts most long-distance travelers, while trams constitute more of a local option.
There are two tramway depots. The Whitty Street Depot is the main storage and maintenance facility, with the impressively compact shops responsible for construction of all Hong Kong trams. The Aldrich Bay Road (Sai Wah Ho) Depot is mostly used as an overnight storage yard. It is also used by some short turn trips as a turnaround terminal.
Talks about closing the tram system due to implied inefficiency and expenses seem to always persist almost perpetually, similarly to the counter-arguments regarding the trams’ practicality, as well as symbolism: the city of Hong Kong wouldn’t be the same without its famous beloved "Ding Ding".
Hong Kong Tramways VWF
Hong Kong Tramways Millenium cars 169, 170 (2000)
Hong Kong Tramways VI (1980s)
Replica car 1950s design 120 (1990s)
Replica cars 1920s design 28 (1986), 128 (1987), 68 (2016)
Work cars 200, 300, 400
The Hong Kong tram system is the only one in the world operated exclusively with double-decker trams. The 36 First Generation single deck motor cars operated in 1904-1935 and 22 single deck trailers operated in 1964-1982 were the only exceptions to the rule. All Hong Kong trams are built within the shops at the main Whitty Street Depot. Cars of consecutive generations essentially constitute rebuilts from cars of previous generations.
At the time of writing in 2016 roughly half of trams operated were the Sixth Generation cars from the 1980-1990s, mostly rebodied between 1987-1992. The other half of trams were of the newer VWF design, constructed from 2009 on. Gradual rebuilding of cars of the Sixth Generation into VWF cars is an ongoing process. Four cars of the Millennium type (169-171) were built around 2000. It turned out to be an unsuccessful project, and production of this type was discontinued. Two of the Millennium cars (168,171) were rebuilt back into the VWF cars. Air-conditioning was installed as a test on Car 8 in 2016. The party tram 128 is also equipped with the air-conditioning. There are three work trams on the roster: 200, 300 & 400. Car 300 is equipped with a diesel auxiliary power option.
Cars 12 and 50 are the only two surviving original Hong Kong trams of the 1950s design. No cars of older designs remain. Car 50 is on a static display at the Museum of the City of Hong Kong, while Car 12 is owned by a railway museum in the United States. Car 163 was rebuilt from a 1964 single deck trailer in 1982 – perhaps the only reminder of single-deck trams in Hong Kong. Cars 28 & 128 are party trams rebuilt to resemble the 1920s style trams in 1986 and 1987 respectively. Both cars are designed explicitly for private hire and boast café-like interior. In addition Car 68 was rebuilt in the similar style in 2016 to be used for regularly scheduled TramOramic tours. Car 120 was rebuilt in the 1990s based on the 1950s style design. Despite its young age, it is a precise replica of older trams, a twin to Car 50 displayed at the museum, and perhaps the most authentic and appropriately-sounding tram in Hong Kong. Car 120 is operated in regular revenue service on ordinary rotating (and difficult to trace) schedule. As all 6 city tram services merge onto the same track in the eastward direction on Hennessy Road between Tin Lok Lane and Percival Street, a two-hour (at the maximum) wait there could yield an almost-guaranteed ride on the 120. ‘At the end of the day’ any cars in the fleet are available for private hire through the carrier’s website.
© 2002 Author: Yury Maller - Usage of material found herein for public display is possible with authors' permission only.