Four more ‘hidden’ spaces in Hong Kong express rail terminus revealed by officials

Su Xinqi
Four more ‘hidden’ spaces in Hong Kong express rail terminus revealed by officials

Four previously undisclosed areas covering 27,300 square metres at Hong Kong’s new high-speed rail terminus were revealed by the government late on Thursday night, days after media reports of a “secret” underground level became a political issue.

The hidden floor, coded B5 in the design plan, is located under the B4 platform level of the West Kowloon terminus. To counter speculation that other such spaces existed in the station – with opposition politicians suggesting they might be controlled by mainland Chinese authorities – transport authorities issued a statement on the remaining “back-of-house” locations and what they contained.

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These levels housed offices, ventilation and air conditioning facilities, refuse collection and switch rooms, dining rooms and other such amenities, officials said.

The concern over the spaces stems from an ongoing controversy over the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link’s “co-location” immigration arrangement. Since Tuesday, a 105,000 square metre port area inside the station is under the complete jurisdiction of mainland Chinese authorities, except for six “reserved issues”, including maintenance of the terminal and safety of the 26km local section of the link.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor on Tuesday dismissed the idea of anything “mysterious” about the underground level.

“If you’ve stayed at hotels before, you would know hotels have [facilities] called ‘back of house’, where maintenance is carried out,” she said.

Later on Tuesday, the Transport and Housing Bureau issued a statement confirming the existence of the B5 level, where there are plant rooms for air conditioning, drainage and sewage systems.

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“It is actually a back-of-house service corridor,” the bureau said. “This is not an area for passenger use and is not within the mainland port area.”

“There is therefore no question of covering up the matter,” the statement continued.

At about midnight on Thursday, the bureau further revealed that other than B5, there were four more back-of-house areas in the terminus above each of the underground levels from B1 to B4.

In the 14 public documents and reports on the high-speed rail submitted by the government to the Legislative Council’s railways subcommittee over the past two years, the B5 level was mentioned only once, without elaboration, in a quarterly report in September 2016. The other four levels were never mentioned.

The five interlayers add up to a total of 30,400 square metres, or about 28 per cent of the area of a typical floor in the terminus, according to the bureau.

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The areas are for use during rescue and evacuation only, and are not subject to the mainland authorities’ management or jurisdiction, the bureau said.

“All exits and entrances to back-of-house areas, including relevant passageways, doors and lifts that connect with the public areas or the mainland port area in the [West Kowloon terminus] are locked by security systems,” the statement said.

The West Kowloon terminus will officially open in 16 days, with the first rides on the HK$84.4 billion (US$10.7 billion) high-speed rail link commissioned for September 23. 

Frankie Yick Chi-ming, chairman of Legco’s transport panel, said the committee sent a letter to the bureau on Tuesday requesting a meeting with officials before the terminus and the rail link are open for service.

“When the officials come to the panel again, I hope they will keep nothing up their sleeves any more,” said Yick, who is also a member of the Legco railways subcommittee.

“How the government has been handling the case is not ideal,” he added. “All infrastructures have such back-of-house areas. There is nothing secretive. The bureau should disclose all the details as soon as possible.”

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Tanya Chan, Yick’s colleague on both the panel and the subcommittee, said she was highly doubtful of the MTR Corp’s capability to efficiently manage the back-of-house areas and the doors connecting them with the mainland port area.

“The MTR Corp has no experience in managing border lines at checkpoints,” Chan said. “There are hundreds of doors between the Hong Kong and mainland port areas, including those connecting the B5 and B4 levels. How can the MTR Corp make sure that all these doors will be watched closely around the clock?”

Chan described the way the government had disclosed the new information as “contemptible”.

“It didn’t learn a lesson after the B5 level was reported on Monday at midnight. And it was pretending to come clean of its own accord last night after local media followed up on the level,” she said.

According to the transport authorities’ disclosures this week, the five back-of-house areas are:

  • The 5,600 square metre B1M level above the B1 ticketing hall on the first underground floor. There are ventilation shafts, railway operator offices, air conditioning plant rooms and dining areas for the public.
  • The 10,300 square metre B2H level above the B2 arrival level. There are ventilation shafts and a refuse collection room.
  • The 7,200 square metre B3M/B3H level above the B3 departure level. There are passageways connecting Lin Cheung Road and the subway, as well as ventilation shafts.
  • The 4,200 square metre B4M level above the B4 platform level. There are railway operator offices, switch rooms, air conditioning plant rooms, refuse collection and equipment maintenance rooms.
  • The 3,100 square metre B5 level beneath the B4 platform level. There are plant rooms for air conditioning, drainage and sewage systems.

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