Wednesday, 8 April 2020

hidden history #4

I wonder how many people in Hong Kong know that there was once a railway line from Fanling to Sha Tau Kok. I certainly didn’t until I starred exploring east of Fanling about three years ago. I was riding along the rudimentary cycle track that runs parallel to Sha Tau Kok Road, between the junctions with Ping Che Road and Lau Shui Heung Road, when I spotted a nondescript building behind a sturdy wire-netting fence:

I probably wouldn’t have taken any notice, except that I spotted a polished metal plaque with the following inscription (I’ve edited the text slightly for clarity):
Hung Leng Station
Fanling–Sha Tau Kok Branch Line
Hung Leng station was one of three wayside stations on the Fanling–Sha Tau Kok branch line and is the only remaining building structure of the line. Constructed in 1911 and in service from 1912 to 1928, the Fanling–Sha Tau Kok branch line was the first mass transit system for the northeastern New Territories. After the closure of the line, the station was closed and handed over to the government. It was once used as a store by the Highways Department.
Purposely built as a functional railway station, Hung Leng station is a simple Chinese rural vernacular building with minimal decorations. The station is rectangular in plan, with walls built of brick supporting a pitched roof. Opening off a front verandah, the five rooms inside were originally used as a ticket office, waiting rooms and toilets. This historic building is accorded Grade 3 status.
I probably would never have followed this up, except for a comment left by a reader of Hidden History #3, that I write about this railway. What follows is what I’ve been able to find out (I took the photos yesterday while out cycling).

Construction of the line began after the completion of the Hong Kong section of the Kowloon–Canton railway in 1910. It was a narrow-gauge line (610mm) that covered a distance of 11.67km. An end-to-end journey took 55 minutes, which is a reflection of the difficulty of the terrain it had to negotiate. Along the eastern part of the line, there were gradients of up to 1 in 45, which may not sound much, but in the UK, such a gradient would, in the days of steam, have required that banking engines be permanently stationed there to push trains up the hill. There were also some extremely tight curves with a radius of as little as 45 metres, which would certainly have restricted achievable speeds.

The line was single-track, with just one passing loop, near the village of Kwan Tei, about 4km east of Fanling. There is now no obvious population centre around Hung Leng station, but there was once a racecourse near Kwan Tei, although there is now absolutely no trace of its existence. Travelling punters would have had to disembark at Hung Leng station, which is almost a kilometre beyond Kwan Tei. Incidentally, I’ve conjectured in the past that the area I walk through to reach Fanling, which is still known as Ma Shi Po (literally, ‘horse shit area’), acquired the name because cavalry regiments were stationed at the nearby British Army base of Gallipoli Lines, but it may be that the area, part of the flood plain of the Ng Tung River, was used to graze racehorses between events.

At the same time as the railway was being built, a road was also constructed that ran alongside the tracks. At the time, it terminated after 6–7km, but in 1924, the Hong Kong government decided to extend the road to Sha Tau Kok. As happened to hundreds of rural branch lines in Britain, this was the death knell for the line. A motor bus could make the journey in less than half the time!

Apparently, there are places in the east where you can still trace the track bed. There’s even a tunnel somewhere, although I’d be surprised if anyone knows its location. The portals of any such tunnel are sure to have become heavily overgrown in the more than 90 years since the line ceased operations.

Here are three other photos that I took of Hung Leng station yesterday:

The first was taken by holding my camera over the fence, so I had no idea precisely what I was taking. The second is a view of the station looking away from Fanling, while the third is a view of the gable end closer to Fanling. I took the third photo by scrambling up the bank outside the fence, and it looks as though I can get inside the fence, but I didn’t want to leave my bike unattended, so I will wait until I pass this way with Paula before attempting to gain entry.

By the way, the roof structure above the main building is not part of the original. It was probably added during the period when the station was being used by the Highways Department, perhaps to mitigate the effects of a leaky roof or to shield the building from direct sunlight and thus keep it slightly cooler.

Meanwhile, here is an old photo of a train waiting to depart from Fanling station, which looks nothing like this anymore:

Although the Tsz Tak Study Hall, Fanling Wai and the Pang Ancestral Hall are just off-camera to the left, there was nothing to see here then (I’ve no idea what the colonial-style buildings in the distance are, but there is no longer any trace of their existence). All that exists nowadays in the area shown in the photograph is high-rise blocks as far as the eye can see, which isn’t far! I can’t help but wonder what prompted the KCR to locate a station here in 1911, other than for people who wanted to catch a train to Sha Tau Kok.

other posts in this series
Hidden History.
Hidden History #2.
Hidden History #3.
Hidden History #5.


  1. Wonder where the exact location is on google maps?

    1. Before replying to your comment, I checked to see how much information I’d included in the text, but I didn’t check Google Maps. I’ve just done so, and it is marked, albeit misidentified as a museum, about 100 metres east of the junction of Lau Shui Heung Road and Sha Tau Kok Road.


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