If there’s one sight you’ll probably never witness in Singapore, it would be thousands of commuters running just to catch a train.
“The next train will be coming in four minutes lah, what’s the rush for?”
Maybe on occasion you’ll see someone sprinting towards the train as the doors are about to close like hell is on their heels, but that’s as exciting as it gets.
… Or maybe it’s the last train of the night, and if you don’t get on, you’re going to be stranded for good.
For Hong Kong rail buffs though, this was a freaking race for time and space.
Mad Dash for the First Train
On an early Sunday morning (15 May), by which I mean 5:25am, the new East Rail cross-harbour extension in Hong Kong began its operation.
The opening was met with a large crowd of commuters barely held back by the temporary barricade of gates, a sea of typical Asian gravity-defying black hair or tied ponytails crowding the train station, impatiently waiting for the figurative starter pistol to go off.
By 4am, there were at least 500 people waiting in line.
They were chanting for the train employees to open the gates earlier, which must have been a slightly terrifying situation, considering the protesting/rioting experience that Hong Kongers have.
When it was officially time for the operations to start, these train enthusiasts literally sprinted like their lives depended on it to be the first onboard on the train.
It was mayhem.
Some people fell in the stampede. There was a lot of shoving and pushing.
One Hong Kong Open TV reporter at the scene was throwing jokes around as he played witness to everything, saying, “As [they] were running towards the gates, someone left behind their shoe—but it’s not a glass slipper.”
Whoever the owner of the shoe is, I doubt they will even bother try to get it back.
2,000 Commuters on the First Train
If you think that these train enthusiasts are crazy for being awake at 4am, some of these people apparently camped at the Exhibition Centre train station overnight, starting from 10pm.
With their fervour, you’d think that they were queuing outside SISCO for BTS tickets instead.
According to Mass Transit Railway (MTR) Operator Director Tony Lee, approximately 2,000 commuters board the special first train departing from the new Exhibition Centre Station at 5:25am.
The train carriages were packed to the brim, to the point where the concept of “personal space” doesn’t exist, but the commuters were nonetheless ecstatic.
It was even reported that the commuters started singing the theme song “East Rail Line Cross-Harbour” during the short train ride.
That’s right, the MTR made a theme song to celebrate the opening of a new train railway and it caught on among the masses like wildfire.
And honestly? The song is pretty catchy.
New Cross-Harbour Rail in a Hundred Years
Perhaps some readers might be thinking that these people are overreacting.
When the Circle or the Downtown Line opened for the first time, Singaporeans definitely didn’t react in such a manner.
But for Hong Kongers, this event was an exciting development because it was the first time in a hundred years that they were getting a new cross-harbour rail.
One of the train enthusiasts, Jacky Lee, told South China Morning Post reporters that he even brought the four generations of train models on board with him on the first train.
Another train buff proudly declared that he’s been to every railway opening as he donned a hat worn by the railway operators.
Concurrently, there were train enthusiasts who bid farewell to the old platform of East Rail Line at Hung Hom Station after 47 years, in thanks for its tireless and faithful service.
To commemorate the new cross-harbour rail, limited edition face masks and pins were distributed by the MTR at the station.
100,000 single-trip tickets will also be given away to the public.
Registered users of the MTR application can collect these tickets starting from 2pm on 31 May, on a first come first serve basis. More information has been provided on the MTR website.
The Significance of the New Cross-Harbour Extension
Besides the upgraded transport technology, the cross-harbour extension was constructed with the purpose of connecting the Northwest New Territories, Central Kowloon, and Hong Kong Island.
The East Rail Line is very convenient as it takes commuters straight across the sea.
It’s just one new station point, but it solves many problems.
In order to cross the distance between islands in the past, commuters had to take the MTR to Hung Hom Station, then transfer to Bus Service 104 to cross the sea to get to work.
Now, they can take the train directly to the Exhibition Centre station, which shortens their commute time by five to ten minutes at least, and there’s no longer a need to switch modes of transport.
These train enthusiasts have been waiting for this opening for many years.
As of 11am, approximately 8,7000 commuters have entered and exited from the Exhibition Centre Station.
Hung Hom Station and Admiralty Station recorded 13,300 and 18,800 commuters respectively.
Perhaps the East-Thompson Line will face the same crowd when the train between Johor and Singapore finally opens in 2026?
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Featured Image: HK01
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