Everything you need to know about taking Hong Kong’s new high-speed rail to China

Your journey starts here.
Your journey starts here.
Image: AP Photo/Kin Cheung
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More than eight years in the making, Hong Kong’s $11 billion high-speed rail will officially open for service on Sunday (Sept. 23). This new bullet train will dramatically cut down the time it takes to travel to Shenzhen and Guangzhou, linking Hong Kong to the world’s largest high-speed railway network.

But before it got to this point, the long-delayed and over-budget project was mired in scandal after scandal. There were concerns the infrastructure wasn’t safe because of water leaks, a derailment during a trial run, and fears that construction was causing a nearby mall and residential complex to sink. And of course, there were political controversies as well after Hong Kong agreed to cede part of its station to mainland Chinese control in order to streamline customs and immigration clearance for passengers.

Now that it’ll finally open for business, this is what you should know about navigating the new high-speed rail.

How to buy tickets on Hong Kong’s bullet train

There are five ways to buy tickets for the high-speed rail:

  • online
  • by phone
  • in person at a station ticket counter
  • in person at a station ticket kiosk
  • through a travel agency

Buy tickets online

You can buy tickets directly from the service operator, MTR Corporation. There are no additional fees for purchasing tickets online, and the system will automatically assign seats to passengers.

Travelers with a phone number registered in mainland China can also purchase tickets from China Railway Corporation (link in Chinese), with varying handling fees depending on the total fare.

Buy tickets by phone

You can call +852 2120 0888 from 7am to 9pm local time to purchase tickets at least two hours before departure.

Buy tickets at the station

You can purchase tickets at the ticket counters or machines at Hong Kong’s West Kowloon station as well as all train stations on China’s high-speed railway network.

In addition to payments by cash, credit card, and Octopus card (Hong Kong’s contactless payment card used primarily for public transit), WeChat Pay, Apple Pay, Google Pay, and Samsung Pay will also be accepted at West Kowloon.

Buy tickets from travel agents

Tickets can be purchased from a number of travel agents, a list of which can be found here (pdf), and must be picked up at the station.

How to pick up tickets

Tickets bought online, by phone, or through agents should be collected at the ticket counters or machines at least 45 minutes before train departure, and identity documents must be presented when collecting them. If tickets are picked up at a kiosk, the traveler must present the credit card used for the purchase or enter the booking number and password.

Hong Kong and Macau residents will have to present their home return permit, an identity document that allows them to travel to mainland China, when picking up their tickets. Mainland Chinese travelers can present their identity cards or exit/entry permits, while Taiwan residents must use their mainland travel permits. All other travelers will need their passports.

Bullet-train fares and travel times

How much tickets cost from Hong Kong

At launch, economy fares, also known as second-class tickets, for short-haul journeys range from HK$78 to HK$247 ($10 to $32) for adults. Long-haul trips to places farther north, like Beijing, cost up to HK$1,237 ($158). However, because ticket prices are set in yuan, fares in Hong Kong dollars will be adjusted each month due to differences in the exchange rate.

There are also more expensive options for first class, which features more spacious seats and amenities like individual reading lights, as well as premium and business classes, which are only available on some trains.

Below is a table of adult fares (pdf) departing from Hong Kong to select cities when the trains start operation.

A fare hack on the high-speed rail

It’s possible to bring down the cost of travel from Hong Kong to Guangzhou by splitting the journey into multiple legs. Though Hong Kong’s transportation secretary previously said it wasn’t possible to purchase separate tickets for two or more legs of the same train ride, a local TV channel showed otherwise (link in Chinese). For example, instead of paying HK$247 for a single journey from Hong Kong to Guangzhou, a passenger could purchase a ticket from Hong Kong to Shenzhen and another from Shenzhen to Guangzhou, staying on the same train (but likely having to switch seats) and saving HK$65.

A direct bullet train from Hong Kong’s West Kowloon station to the Guangzhou South station, running three times daily, is supposed to take 48 minutes, much faster than the existing two-hour train journey between Hung Hom in Hong Kong and the Guangzhou East railway station. (Keep in mind that Guangzhou East, where the slow train ends, is much closer to the city center than Guangzhou South, the terminus of Hong Kong’s high-speed rail). Trains with stops in between will take up to 71 minutes to get to Guangzhou South from West Kowloon.

How long trips take from Hong Kong

This table shows the shortest estimated times for traveling from Hong Kong (pdf, p.8) to select destinations, taking into account no intermediary stops for short-haul journeys and the fastest travel times on China’s high-speed rail on weekdays.

Though the bullet train’s main selling point is speed, an analysis by the South China Morning Post found it is likely cheaper, faster, or both, to fly to some of the destinations on China’s high-speed railway network.

Connections on China’s rail network

After departing Hong Kong, passengers can continue their journeys on China’s bullet trains to 44 cities. The major interchange stations are Guangzhou South and Shenzhen North. From Guangzhou South, for instance, passengers can get on other high-speed trains to cities like Guilin and Nanjing. Similarly, passengers can connect from Shenzhen North and travel onward to places like Changsha and Hangzhou.

In addition, travelers will be able to connect directly to the local metro system at many high-speed rail stations in China.

Luggage allowance on the high-speed train

Current rules don’t restrict the amount of luggage passengers can bring. But in keeping with mainland bullet-train standards, the combined length, height, and width of bags cannot exceed 130 cm (51 inches) or weigh more than 20 kg (44 lbs). Furthermore, rod-shaped objects cannot be longer than 2 meters (6.6 ft). Passengers can arrange to courier items that exceed these limits.

West Kowloon arrival and departure procedures

At Hong Kong’s West Kowloon station, passengers will need to go through security, customs, and immigration. Customs and immigration will take place in an area of the station under China’s jurisdiction. Having completed both Hong Kong departure and mainland arrival clearance procedures at the West Kowloon station, passengers won’t have to go through customs and immigration again upon arrival in China.

The waiting hall for departing passengers, train platforms, and the trains themselves are also under Chinese jurisdiction, where China’s civil and criminal laws apply.

Passengers who arrive in Hong Kong from China will go through Hong Kong arrival clearance in the West Kowloon station.

Beware China’s travel blacklist

In June, the Chinese government issued its first passenger blacklist (link in Chinese), banning travelers from flights and trains for a number of infringements. The blacklist, which initially included 169 individuals, has since been updated to include more than 673 names as of July. Anyone caught breaking the new rules (link in Chinese) for China’s high-speed trains will be banned from the entire rail network for 90 to 180 days. These rules include:

  • disrupting the operation of trains and endangering railway safety
  • smoking on trains
  • reselling and forging tickets
  • forging identity documents
  • using forged or invalid tickets
  • traveling without a ticket, or traveling beyond the designated destination