Professor Frederick Ma, Chairman, MTR

The MTR Corporation Limited (MTR) has unveiled Rail Gen 2.0 vision, which includes upgradation of the existing metro rail network and completion of ongoing works for the development of four rail lines by 2021.

Hong Kong metro’s current network comprises 10 lines, which together span 220.9 km and cover 87 stations. The lines are Kwun Tong Line, Tsuen Wan Line, Island Line, Tung Chung Line, Tseung Kwan O Line, Disneyland Resort Line, Airport Express, East Rail Line, West Rail Line, and Ma On Shan Line. A fleet of more than 2,100 railcars is in service. The system records an average daily ridership of about 5.5 million passengers.

In a recent interaction with Global Mass Transit, Professor Frederick Ma, Chairman, MTR discussed the company’s current operations, future plans and opportunities. Excerpts from the interaction follow.

MTR’s operations

MTR is widely respected internationally as a beacon of an efficient public transport system. It provides world-class railway performance based on customer-centric service and a sustainable financial model. The company has come a long way since service commenced in Kowloon in 1979. The launch of a modern transit system was a milestone not only for transportation service but for the development of the entire city of Hong Kong. The metro service provided a comfortable and convenient alternative for passengers, who were used to travelling on overcrowded buses in heavy traffic.

As the rail network expanded over the years, the economy grew and the quality of life of the citizens improved. Hong Kong became one of the world’s most dynamic international cities with the MTR as an important part. In the past decade, MTR has leveraged its accumulated experience and expertise to expand its footprint to cities such as London, Melbourne, Stockholm, Beijing, Shenzhen and Hangzhou.

MTR’s primary focus, however, has always remained its home base of Hong Kong where it has made great strides over the past few years. It witnesses average daily ridership of 5.5 million passengers. Ridership has increased by 30 per cent from 2008 to 2015.

Focus on service reliability

MTR operates more than 8,000 train trips a day and has added more than 2,600 weekly services since 2012. Even with increased service frequency and trains as well as operations at near-capacity, MTR has maintained 99.9 per cent on-time performance. It focuses intensely on minimising delays.

In 2015, there were only seven delays on the heavy rail lines and one delay on the light-rail lines that lasted for 31 minutes or more and were attributed to factors within MTR’s control. This is an exemplary operations record.

With its strong commitment to customer service, MTR recognises that even a small delay can have a ripple effect along the busy rail lines and affect the journeys of customers who will not hesitate to vent their feelings online when the normally highly-reliable service falls short of their expectations.

Expanding network

Under the Rail Gen 2.0 strategy, MTR will complete four rail projects over the next five years to serve new communities. These include the Kwun Tong Extension and South Island Line (East) around the end of 2016, the high-speed Express Rail Link to connect to China’s high-speed network in 2018, and the Shatin-Central Link which includes two new lines and opens in two phases in 2019 and 2021.

The heavy rail network will grow by 52 km (about 24 per cent) with 18 new stations. Over 70 per cent of Hong Kong’s population will be within the railway catchment. The stations will be enhanced with new facilities including external lifts, wide gates, toilets and passenger information systems. Many of the new facilities have already been provided on the recently opened Western extension of the Island Line.

Capital investments

Having a sustainable financial base built on the rail plus property (R+P) business model allows MTR to continuously invest in the network. In 2015, it invested in the replacement, maintenance and upgrade of assets totalling HKD7 billion. MTR is also investing HKD6 billion to replace 93 urban line trains and HKD3 billion to replace the signalling systems of seven lines to provide additional capacity.

Strengthening staff capacity

MTR’s staff is at the heart of its achievements. It has a staff of more than 17,000 people in Hong Kong. Staff training and development are among top priorities.  In 2015, MTR won the Hong Kong Management Association’s “25th Anniversary Award: Most Dedicated Organisation to People Development.”

MTR is also launching the MTR Academy, an educational institution to develop talent for the railway and transport industries initially in Hong Kong and later in mainland China and overseas. This initiative is expected to cultivate the strong talent pipeline necessary to build expertise to remain at the forefront of providing the best railway services in the world.

Improving customer service

Despite its high level of customer engagement, MTR aims to improve the service further for the 21st century. It seeks to make its customers’ journeys not only reliable and efficient but also enjoyable.

MTR launches fun activities and promotions in holiday periods and recently started a year-long “Happy Birthday Happy Journey” programme. A lucky date is drawn each month by invited celebrities and a special birthday pack is offered to all Hong Kong identity card holders who have their birthday on the drawn date. MTR’s “art in MTR” programme helps to make passenger experience interesting and expand station art. In addition, MTR organises special events such as musical performances.

Corporate social responsibility

MTR has launched a wide range of corporate responsibility initiatives under its Community Connect identity to benefit different groups and sectors.

The latest initiative involves offering 12 shops along the West Rail Line for use by social enterprises. MTR also unveiled a new platform called Youth Connect in September 2015 to empower young people to innovate with the company, voice their opinions to the management team and assist in inter-generational research. MTR contributes to community health projects by raising charitable donations through its annual MTR Hong Kong Race Walking event.

Overseas business

The outlook for MTR’s business outside Hong Kong is very promising.

In 2015, MTR started the TfL Rail service on the first phase of the Crossrail/Elizabeth Line in London. MTR is operating city train networks in Melbourne and Stockholm as well as the intercity rail service between Stockholm and Gothenburg. In December 2016, MTR will take over the concession for the Stockholm Pendeltag commuter rail service. It is also investing in the Sydney Metro Northwest project and will begin operations from 2019.

In mainland China, MTR operates urban metro lines through joint ventures or subsidiaries in Beijing, Hangzhou and Shenzhen. These lines have a total route length of 168 km and serve about 2.6 million passengers per weekday.

MTR’s route length in mainland China will increase to 221 km in the next several years. These lines are all public-private partnership (PPP) projects. In fact, Beijing Line 4, which commenced service in 2009, was the first PPP metro project in China.

In the property business, MTR has launched its first rail-related property development outside Hong Kong in Shenzhen and has another project underway in Tianjin.


All cities where MTR operates are urbanising at a rapid rate with increased demand for high quality rail service. There is also potential for R+P-type developments.

In China, the central government recently announced a USD700 billion, three-year plan to improve the country’s infrastructure and MTR believes that has created new opportunities for it.

The Belt and Road policy of the mainland government has opened options for expansion and partnership with mainland railway companies for new projects in the Belt and Road countries.  MTR’s R+P business model may be applicable to infrastructure and urban development projects in different parts of the world. The MTR Academy will support business growth in its home base and beyond by developing highly-competent railway professionals through signature programmes in railway engineering technology, operations, management and customer service.

In closing

MTR is a symbol of Hong Kong, representing the spirit and drive of the people. By reinforcing its strengths and capabilities at home, it can contribute to the urban development needs of other cities and regions. As a vertically integrated railway company, MTR has a full suite of expertise to offer in the planning, construction, operation, maintenance and asset management of railway systems. Its achievements are built on a culture of continuous improvement. With dedication, professionalism and bright prospects for the future, it is ready to face new challenges and is determined to advance MTR’s legacy locally and globally for many years to come.

(This is Part 2 of a two-part spotlight. Part 1 discussed Rail Gen 2.0 Vision of the Hong Kong MTR. It was covered in the Global Mass Transit Monthly issue released in June 2016.)