A visual survey of selected elevated rail viaducts: Part 6 - Hong Kong

Another iteration of the series on elevated rail – for more, read the prologuepart 1part 2part 3part 4 and part 5

Hong Kong: Hong Kong’s Mass Transit Railway sets the gold standard for efficient rail operations. The system operates at a profit, the governing corporation makes money not just on transportation, but on the associated real estate development. Developing areas around stations both ensures a critical mass of riders to support the line, but also provides MTR with the long-term financial benefit of owning the assets that benefit from the rail system they operate.

All of these factors make Hong Kong an interesting subject for study. Many of the newer additions to the transit system are largely elevated; and many of those lines run through urban environments with street geometries and traffic volumes not dissimilar to suburban arterial streets elsewhere.

Large portions of Hong Kong violate many of the principles for great pedestrian streets, yet still manage to serve large volumes of city dwellers. Many MTR stations include pedestrian bridges and full grade separation for adjacent roads, rails, and pedestrians:

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View near Ma On Shan MTR station in Hong Kong. Image from Google Maps.

Or, consider the massive pedestrian overpasses that traverse this large roundabout at the intersection of two highway-like arterial streets near the Tai Wai station:

Aerial of pedestrian overpasses near the Tai Wai station (top of image). Image from Google Maps.

Aerial of pedestrian overpasses near the Tai Wai station (top of image). Image from Google Maps.

The physical viaduct structures themselves make little effort to shrink into the landscape. The combination of large pre-cast concrete viaducts with high sound walls make for a fairly bulky aerial structure. This example is part of the Ma On Shan line near the Sha Tin Wai station in the Sha Tin district of Hong Kong’s New Territories.

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Elevated MTR rail near Sha Tin Wai Station, Hong Kong. Image from Google Maps.

The rail line runs alongside the roadway. The roadways themselves are hemmed in by numerous fences and barriers; in this case, a median fence prevents jaywalking while fences along the road edge protect bike parking, with a bike trail and sidewalk beyond.

Pedestrian access to Sha Tin Wai station. Image from Google Maps.

Pedestrian access to Sha Tin Wai station. Image from Google Maps.

Not all stations are surrounded with the wide roadways, but even on lower volume streets, fencing restricts ped movements to the crosswalks. In the distance, you can see a pedestrian bridge to provide ped access away from the intersection in the foreground. The pedestrian bridge ties directly into the station’s mezzanine level.

Street-facing retail spaces beneath the station mezzanine. Image from Google Maps.

Street-facing retail spaces beneath the station mezzanine. Image from Google Maps.

Towards the other end of the station, you find street-facing retail within the station building, tucked beneath the station’s mezzanine. The concept is similar to the re-use of such spaces in older systems, showing that you can make it work without the charming brick and stone viaducts. Also worth noting: the global reach of 7-Eleven knows no bounds.

This kind of in-station retail not only breaks up the facade of the station (compare it to the blank walls of a similarly designed station without the retail), but the retail revenue helps fund the system operations. Retail is not limited to street-level exterior storefronts, but also includes in-station retail.

Mezzanine level retail spaces in MTR's Kowloon Bay station. CC image from Wiki.

Mezzanine level retail spaces in MTR’s Kowloon Bay station. CC image from Wiki.

WMATA’s Silver Line stations in Tysons Corner might have similar opportunities. “Sand Box John” Cambron’s photos from the Silver Line construction shows the size of the Tyson’s Corner stations. In particular, the two stations aligned to the side of the roadway (McLean and Tysons Corner) feature massive station structures with lots of potential space for these kinds of retail uses; however, such uses will now be retrofits rather than actively planned opportunities.

The curb lanes adjacent to the station are devoted to bus operations. Bus shelters on the near side of the street (just out of the image) provide riders with a quick transfer to the rail system by ascending to the overpass and walking directly into the station mezzanine.

Stations aren’t the only opportunities for multiple uses of infrastructure; Hong Kong features several examples of development in the air rights above rail yards, such as this development above the rail yard near the Kowloon Bay station.

Air rights development above rail yard adjacent to Kowloon Bay MTR station. Image from Google Maps.

Air rights development above rail yard adjacent to Kowloon Bay MTR station. Image from Google Maps.

Air rights development over Kowloon Bay depot. CC image from Wiki.

Air rights development over Kowloon Bay depot. CC image from Wiki.

Scarcity of land and open space forces some creative uses for available space. The Chai Wan station, terminus for the MTR’s Island line, includes rooftop recreational space with a park and tennis courts:

Tennis courts built on the roof of the Chai Wan MTR station. Image from Google Maps.

Tennis courts built on the roof of the Chai Wan MTR station. Image from Google Maps.

The station includes ground level entrances and street-fronting retail (level 0), a mezzanine level with retail and ticketing (+1), the platform (+2) and rooftop recreational space (+3).

View towards Chai Wan station. Image from Google Maps.

View towards Chai Wan station. Image from Google Maps.

Chai Wan station. Image from Google Maps.

Chai Wan station. Image from Google Maps.

The station’s tail tracks weave under and through buildings and over narrow streets:

Chai Wan station tail tracks. Image from Google Maps.

Chai Wan station tail tracks. Image from Google Maps.

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