Guangzhou–Shenzhen–Hong Kong Express Rail Link (XRL): Hong Kong West Kowloon to Futian by MTR Vibrant Express

The recently-opened Guangzhou–Shenzhen–Hong Kong Express Rail Link (XRL) provides an alternative way to travel between Hong Kong, Shenzhen and other mainland Chinese cities from the West Kowloon station in Hong Kong, connected to Austin and Kowloon stations on the West and East Rail Lines of the Hong Kong MTR. West Kowloon station connects Hong Kong to the China Railway High-speed (CRH) network offering seamless travel between Hong Kong and China.

On this trip, I bought in advance my tickets on the Hong Kong MTR website, from which you can buy tickets for any train to and from China. Strangely, the online ticketing service is unavailable from 11pm to 6am daily, so you will need to buy them in the day.

Upon arriving at West Kowloon station, just a five-minute walk from Austin MTR station, proceed to the manned counters 21 – 25 to collect your ticket with the email from the MTR booking website.

Just like the rest of the CRH network, purchase of train tickets requires real names and identification numbers. While Hong Kong permanent residents and Chinese citizens can collect tickets from the automated machines, foreign passport holders can only collect tickets from the manned counters.

Both Hong Kong MTR and CRH rolling stock operate services between Hong Kong and Futian in Shenzhen; today I am travelling on G5822 operated by one of nine HK MTR Vibrant Express trains. Ticket prices in Hong Kong are determined each month based on the conversion rate from Chinese Yuan; the second-class ticket I bought cost HK$78.

You will need to collect your tickets at least 45 minutes before the train departs, so that you will have time to pass through security, customs and immigration, not unlike at an airport.

Right before entering the security area, an MTR staff member checks the name on your ticket against your identity document, China Railway style – which means that you will need to  furnish accurate details when you purchase your ticket.

It was a public holiday in Hong Kong when I travelled, and there was not too long of a line at security and immigration, with the whole process taking about 15 minutes. Following security, take the escalators down to clear Hong Kong immigration.

Some duty-free shops provide some last minute shopping opportunities before you take the next escalator down to the China immigration level. Foreigner lanes are on the right, and remember to take a departure/arrival card before you join the queue for immigration.

Clearing Chinese immigration in Hong Kong also means that you will not need to clear immigration upon arriving in China. However, do note that Visas-on-arrival, which you can obtain in Lo Wu station, are not available in West Kowloon. As such, you will only be able to use this method of travel if you are a Chinese or Hong Kong resident, if you have already have a Chinese visa or do not require one for travel into China.

Is this the first step of Hong Kong becoming China?

It’s one more escalator down to the boarding gate area. Look up the screens, or the white-board to find out which direction your departure gate will be. Again, remember to allocate some time to find and walk to the right gate, especially if it is your first time at the station.

A ticketing counter is provided at the boarding concourse level, presumably if you have missed your train and need a new ticket.

Just like in the CRH, boarding gates are separated depending on which car you are in. Ticket gantries are opened 15 minutes before the scheduled departure time, and closes 5 minutes before train departure.

The 8-car train sets, which are essentially CSR Qingdao Sifang CRH380A trains, was already on the platform when I went down, and is painted in MTR livery.

Check the car and seat number on your ticket to find the right place.

My ticket for the short hop from Hong Kong West Kowloon to Futian.

Two classes of travel are provided for on the Vibrant Express, Standard Class and two First-Class cars. I travelled on Standard-Class, which has seats in a 3-2 configuration. The rotatable seats are rotated in the direction of travel prior to boarding the train.

A seat-back table is provided on each seat.

Baggage racks can be found at the ends of each car.

Toilets and hot-water dispensers, together with on-board wifi can also be found in each car.

The train departed punctually and the very comfortable, and nearly entirely-underground took just 14 minutes to reach Futian Railway Station in downtown Shenzhen, connected to lines 2, 3 and 11 of the Shenzhen Metro.

Upon reaching Futian, simply insert your ticket into the exit gantries. Futian Station is conveniently located adjacent to shopping centres and other attractions. However, including the check-in time of 45 minutes, the journey took 59 minutes.

The new high-speed Guangzhou–Shenzhen–Hong Kong Express Rail Link is a good addition to the numerous ways to travel between Shenzhen and Hong Kong, including ferry, cross-border bus and MTR to Lo Wu and Lok Ma Chau Stations.

While it is not the cheapest way to travel, it is probably at least a little faster than the MTR, depending on where in Hong Kong you begin your journey from and certainly a much more comfortable mode of travel. The reserved seats, fixed train times and punctual schedules are all advantages as compared to travelling via the MTR East Rail Line.

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