After being shut for nearly three years because of the pandemic, the 26 kilometer (16 mile) high-speed rail link between Hong Kong and mainland China is finally reopening this weekend. But tickets are hard to come by with only 10,000 for sale daily – 5,000 each way.
Hundreds of people lined up at Hong Kong’s West Kowloon Station on Thursday to snap up the first tickets heading for mainland China on January 15.
Ticket sales have been limited as rail operators try to get back up to speed ahead of the Lunar New Year travel rush.
About 80 trains will be traveling daily along the line, which cuts travel time from Hong Kong to the mainland city of Guangzhou from two hours to just 47 minutes.
MTR Corporation, which operates the Hong Kong side of the link, said more than 3,000 tickets had been sold on Thursday for mainland-bound trips.
High-speed trains from West Kowloon will run to Shenzhen North and Guangzhou South – two major transit hubs for onward travel to other Chinese provinces. A stop at Guangzhou East has also been added for the first time.
Hong Kong’s Secretary for Transport and Logistics Lam Sai-hung said the city’s government is working to smooth out immigration and customs procedures.
“We will review the operation of the rail services. And then we will take into account the demand, and see how we can increase the number of tickets on a daily basis,” Lam told reporters on Thursday.
China’s ticketing booking app 12306 showed only 16 first class seats remaining for Sunday, and only about a dozen seats per train per day during the Lunar New Year travel period of January 15 to 21.
The once bustling borders between Hong Kong and the mainland have been largely shut since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic in early 2020, placing a heavy burden on families and businesses with ties on both sides.
A travel boom is now expected as people once again embrace a Lunar New Year tradition of celebrating with family.
Prior to the high-speed link’s reopening, Hong Kong had a daily quota of 60,000 visitor arrivals from the mainland across seven other border checkpoints.
But according to government statistics, less than 6,000 people in that category have been coming in daily so far.
The city has seen a total of just under 21,600 arrivals from mainland China from Sunday through Wednesday, in its first four days of reopening, immigration department data shows.
The West Kowloon Station officially opened in 2018, marred by a controversial joint checkpoint arrangement which grants mainland officials jurisdiction over part of the terminal. T
he legal basis for the arrangement has been a matter of hot debate as critics see it as infringing on the semi-autonomous status granted to Hong Kong when the former British colony was handed over to China in 1997.
Top: People train tickets at Hong Kong West Kowloon Railway Station in Hong Kong on January 12, 2023. Photo by Li Zhihua/China News Service/VCG/Getty Images.
CNN’s Michelle Toh, Martha Zhou and Jennie Chen contributed to this report.