Launch of HK-China high-speed rail link goes smoothly, but fears remain

A controversial high-speed rail link between Hong Kong and China opened to the public on September 23, 2018.

Hong Kong (CNN)The first ever bullet train from Hong Kong to China departed Sunday, as the city's controversial high-speed rail link opened to the public amid fears greater integration with the mainland could lead to ever more encroachment by Beijing in semi-autonomous Hong Kong's affairs.

Thousands of journalists, tourists and train enthusiasts queued for hours to become the first passengers to travel from West Kowloon Station -- located in central Hong Kong -- to the Chinese city of Guangzhou aboard the new $10 billion rail link.
The 26 kilometer (16 mile) railway links Hong Kong up to China's high-speed rail network, currently the world's largest, allowing passengers to travel from the city to Shanghai and Beijing.
    The flags of Hong Kong (L) and China are seen hoisted outside the West Kowloon train station of the High Speed Rail Link to Guangzhou as sales counters were opened to the public for the first time in Hong Kong on September 10, 2018.
    Under a joint checkpoint arrangement, the station is divided into Hong Kong and Chinese port areas, with the latter falling under the direct jurisdiction of Beijing. For this to work, the Hong Kong government leased part of the station -- including the immigration checkpoint, waiting lounge, and platforms -- to China for a token annual fee of around $128.
    This means that although the West Kowloon station is located in central Hong Kong, part of it is governed by Chinese law and patrolled by mainland police. According to the agreement, the Chinese authorities will have the power to arrest individuals inside the station, or even transfer them to the mainland.
    On the platform, technically part of China, passengers took photos and selfies as they waited for the Vibrant Express to whisk them northwards. At Shenzhen North station, the terminus for some of the short-haul trains for Hong Kong, there was a similar scene as tourists lined up outside the boarding gates bound for the city.
    A Chinese police officer patrols a train on the first day of service of the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link in Hong Kong on September 23, 2018.