MTR’s rail and property model on track to revolutionise Hong Kong communities

MTR was established in 1975 with the mission to construct and operate a metro system for Hong Kong – and ever since then, it has grown globally. Today, it transports 11 million passengers on three connents every day, gaining a reputaon for being one of the best performing and highest quality rail operators in the world, through its focus on safety, reliability, cost and customer service


TR is also a world-leader in rail-related property projects – primarily,

through the use of its innovative rail + property model. The model has been used to address the challenges associated with space and funding for

infrastructure in Hong Kong. MTR is now aiming to take the model to other towns and cities around the world.

Rail + property  how it works

The rail + property model is brilliant in its simplicity. Through a partnership with the Hong Kong government, MTR not only designs, delivers, operates and maintains rail lines and trains, it is granted land development rights alongside rail alignments.

Effectively, this means that when MTR acquires the land on which it proposes to build a rail line, it then creates a masterplan to build integrated communities alongside them, incorporating residences, offices, shops, schools, kindergartens, green spaces and other public facilities above stations and depots. MTR considers the development of the property holistically with the rail projects from day one. Developing above and around stations often brings with it added complexity of design or construction. As such, when MTR designs the rail line and stations, they design and plan for the surrounding and over station developments all as part of one scheme.

MTR’s rail + property model also utilises methods to attract outside investment in these large-scale infrastructure projects. Profit-sharing deals with developers, partial ownership of new developments and on-site property rentals yield revenue to help pay for new investments in transport. The approach helps fill funding gaps when building new rail lines, easing the financial strain of expanding public transport systems and making cities better places to live and work. The deals and developments naturally generate income, which is reinvested as resources for rail operations. At the same time, by building lots of residential and commercial units over the rail line, MTR increases the ridership and thus the train revenue.

Key benefits

The rail + property model is designed with the mission to enhance quality of life for customers, stakeholders and the community. Its application, chiefly in MTR’s home base of Hong Kong, has meant a near revolutionary utilisation of space and efficiency.

The model not only optimises the use of space, primarily through extending buildings vertically above rail stations, but also minimises onward travel needs, something that is a requirement in Hong Kong’s tightly packed streets. It benefits residents by ensuring that their communities are built with access o rail services and other facilities in mind.

The commercialisation of the model, through the development of shopping malls and apartments along rail lines, also helps optimise the income generated from passengers – as well as those who visit these shops and apartments without using the trains. In short, the whole system operates on a self- sustaining basis, without the need for direct taxpayer subsidies.


MTR’s rail + property model has supported the Hong Kong government’s goals for property development for years.

Buildings sit over about half of the public transport system’s 87 stations, amounting to 13 million square metres of floor area, including 100,000 apartments. New projects being planned or developed will add another 3.5 million square metres.

Some highlights include:

uRevenues from developments above stations along the Tseung Kwan O line have financed the extension of that line to serve a new town which has since grown to a population of 380,000. uWong Chuk Hang station on the South Island line (East) has helped

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link the city’s southern district to its business area. uWest Kowloon station, which is located on reclaimed land, serves as a key intermediate station of the Airport Express and seamlessly integrates with the nearby 118-storey International Commerce Centre as well as a residential and retail complex above the station.

Where next?

Hong Kong has provided the ideal ground for the rail + property model because of its dense population and scarce land, but MTR is looking to combine their rail operations and property development expertise in Europe.

The corporation appointed John Robinson as Head of Property for the European Business 18 months ago, and the legislative landscape is looking more favourable, with the UK government in particular appearing increasingly knowledgeable about the key benefits of property above and around train stations. The UK needs to deliver a lot of housing in the coming years, and the most sustainable way to do so is on brownfield land, at high density, at transport hubs. More broadly, Europe is crying out for innovative funding

mechanisms for big railway projects as well as the delivery of housing. Adopting the rail + property model would tick both boxes.

Although the model won’t be able to secure all the necessary investment, it can be a key piece of the puzzle and help a government which is keen to inject private investment into property projects wherever possible. In short, it looks increasingly like there will be a broad scale of opportunity to capitalise on innovative models such as rail + property.

Hong Kong T Octopus Card

he holistic approach of the rail + property model has also extended into other areas of life within Hong Kong. Launched in 1997, the Octopus card gives access to the city’s public transport system, but has since expanded to other areas that are created under the rail + property model. These range from the shops and restaurants along the line right up to apartment and office building access control, car parks and payments systems.


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