Hong Kong’s express rail link to mainland China got off to a bumpy start after its official inauguration on Sunday. The 26-kilometer Hong Kong section of the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong High-speed Rail Link and the city’s HK$12.2 billion (US$1.56 billion) West Kowloon Terminus suffered multiple teething problems.

Local and mainland authorities whipped up considerable fervor for the new rail link, painting the gigantic project as one that further interwove Hong Kong into the Chinese economy and in particular the affluent Guangzhou-Shenzhen conurbation under Beijing’s newly-devised Greater Bay Area masterplan.

Yet a litany of snags followed passengers and railway buffs as they made a beeline for the 420,000-square-meter underground terminus that was excavated along the city’s glittering Victoria Harbor.

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A sign guides passengers to the West Kowloon Terminus. Photo: Frank Chen/Asia Times
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Passengers and railway buffs celebrate the rail link’s inauguration. Photo: Xinhua

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A view of Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbor from the roof top green plaza of the West Kowloon Terminus. Photos: Frank Chen/Asia Times, Wpcpey/WikiMedia

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The London and Hong Kong-based architectural firm Aedas that designed the terminus sought to allow for a very large void down into the main departure hall while enable its roof structure to gesture toward the waterfront. Photos: Frank Chen/Asia Times

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Close-ups of the giant columns and ceiling of the departure hall of the terminus. Passengers are impressed by the airy, streamlined design. Photos: Frank Chen/Asia Times

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Passengers board a train operated by the MTR, the Vibrant Express, at the West Kowloon Terminus. It takes around 20 minutes to get to the mainland. Photos: Frank Chen/Asia Times
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The Vibrant Express, operated by the MTR Corp, arrives at the Futian Station in the neighbouring mainland city of Shenzhen, after a 20-minute hop during which the bullet train can accelerate to up to 200km/h. Photo: Frank Chen/Asia Times

The power system aboard a returning bullet train failed suddenly soon after crossing the border, leaving hundreds of passengers wondering what was going on inside a tunnel when cabin lighting was dimmed and air-conditioning turned off. After a delay of about eight minutes, the train resumed operation and soon reached a speed of more than 200km/h.

Hong Kong’s MTR Corp later admitted that there was temporary instability in the electricity supply to the tracks, but the Ming Pao Daily cited experts as saying that marshaling errors by operators may have been at fault.

The paper noted that there could have been too many trains on the same section of the track, thereby exceeding the capacity of the power supply system, thus causing a shutdown for safety reasons.

A source told Ming Pao that at any given time there must not be more than two 16-car trains or four eight-car trains running in both directions along the 26-km Hong Kong section of the rail link. However, at the time of the incident the source claimed that there were three, 16-car trains on the tracks.

The source called it a silly blunder and a legislator of the city’s pan-democratic bloc has also blasted the MTR for making light of the incident. The legislator questioned if the track section had a power supply bottleneck that would be unable to cope with a sudden spike in train trips during peak seasons.

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Throngs of passengers have to queue up to collect tickets from just a handful of counters. Photo: Frank Chen/Asia Times
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Ticket vending and collection machines experienced connection issues on the first day of operation. The MTR said syncing up the local system with the mainland one turned out to be more complex than thought. Photo: Frank Chen/Asia Times

Mainland Chinese departing from the city also fumed at malfunctioning ticket collection machines which gave up the ghost on day one, meaning they had to spend hours queuing up to collect tickets from only five customer service counters inside the concourse.

The MTR apologized for the inconvenience, adding that the collection machines encountered network connection issues on Sunday due to the technical complexity arising from syncing up the local ticketing system with the mainland one.

Water seepages were also spotted throughout the cavernous concourse on Monday morning when the Hong Kong Observatory issued an amber rainstorm warning.

Water stains were seen on several footbridges to the terminus as well as on the food court floor, and the MTR staff, already overstretched performing crowd management and placating disgruntled passengers in long queues, had to do some extra mopping-up work inside the modernist station.

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Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam is seen passing through a turnstile before boarding a train to Guangzhou on Saturday. Guangdong Governor Ma Xingrui (left), Lam’s predecessor Leung Chun-ying (2nd, left) and other dignitaries are seen in the background. Photo: HK govt

Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam paid a second visit in two days to the terminus on Sunday evening, heaping praise on the operation and service performance while pledging to iron out teething problems. She appealed to passengers to be more understanding about glitches not uncommon when a huge piece of infrastructure goes into service for the first time.

Approximately 76,000 passengers went north across the border on day one, some 4,000 short of a previous estimate. Critics now say that the Hong Kong government and the MTR now have to come up with a more compelling plan to sell the rail link to the city’s residents, after US$11 billion was shelled out on a controversial project that was eight years in the making.

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