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MTR – Long Vision

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What does the name MTR mean to rail passengers in the UK? even London Overground customers could be forgiven for not instantly recognising the name – despite the fact that the company has jointly operated trains in the capital for the past six years.

In Hong Kong, however, MTR is king of public transport. The company operates 46.4 per cent of the franchised public transport network and last year reported an underlying profit of £800 million. It has the combined role of infrastructure manager and train operator, both leading major expansion projects and taking on the responsibility of moving close to two billion people every year.

More than 30 years after opening its very first line in Hong Kong, MTR is continuing to build more and is currently delivering five major infrastructure projects in the region, including the Express Rail Link which will connect the city with mainland China’s high- speed network.

Although Hong Kong remains MTR’s stronghold, the company is gradually taking charge of more and more railways around the globe. In 2005, MTR decided to extend its reach, launching new businesses in Europe and Australia.

The company now carries a further 3 million passengers a day in services outside of Hong Kong and there are plans for further expansion.

Professional photo shoot 21 June 2011 104 [online]

Despite obtaining operating contracts in London and Stockholm, MTR Europe chief executive Jeremy Long, who was approached in 2005 to lead the European arm of the business, said the company has ambitions beyond the UK and Sweden.

‘I think the next most interesting market to us is Germany,” says Jeremy, who began his career in rail 15 years ago, co-founding GB Railways. ‘We’ve begun to look at Germany only more recently. We’ve yet to submit a bid, but it’s our intention that we do start to bid in Germany.

‘We were engaged in the process that had started last year for part of the Berlin S-Bahn. That’s a tender that the Berlin authority intends to proceed with.

‘There is quite a significant pipeline of tenders in various other regions and we’ll consider which of those are the right fit for us.’

The Hong Kong effect

As well as adding new franchises and concessions to its portfolio, MTR wants to get involved in more projects outside of Hong Kong.

MTR took over operations on the Stockholm Metro in 2009, having unsuccessfully competed for another commuter railway in the city. Now four years into its contract, the company has contributed to the Stockholm 2070 study – a long-term strategy which looks at how the city’s metro system will need to grow over the coming decades to accommodate a swelling population.

Says Jeremy, ‘We are clearly focussed on today’s railway and delivering high performance on the metro, but one of the key aspects at the moment is the level of crowding.

‘The level of growth the system is seeing in inner-urban and metro systems, not just on our system but the city as a whole, is growing and we’ve simply tried to set out some thoughts as to how the city might cope, looking long term at the growth needs.

‘We’ve known for some time there are plans to extend the network to increase its capacity but also to develop a lot more housing and commercial premises within Stockholm.

‘We would welcome the opportunity to look at how we might use what MTR calls its rail and property model to part develop, part fund or get involved in optimising rail and residential property.’

Photo: Fredrik Hjerling/ MTR Stockholm.
Photo: Fredrik Hjerling/ MTR Stockholm.

To apply the Hong Kong model in Europe, Jeremy believes that it will mean working more closely with MTR operations around the world. ‘It’s about drawing the skills and the common expertise from the group. Not even just from Hong Kong,’ says Jeremy.

‘There are now common areas of expertise developing, for example between us here in Europe and Australia. There’s expertise that has now shown itself and proven itself in some of the new startups, the big startups, that have been taken up in mainland China.’

Going underground

In 2014, the winner of the Crossrail concession is expected to be announced and MTR is competing against Arriva, Keolis/Go-Ahead and National Express for the honour. It is a win that would propel the MTR name into the consciousness of commuters around the capital.

Speaking about the Crossrail project, Jeremy said, ‘TfL, I think, are pleased with what London Overground has achieved. We have continued to see very high customer satisfaction and we’re achieving high-operational performance that’s required. Out of that has come obvious interest in looking at the Crossrail opportunity which will be very, very important for London’s transport system.

‘I think it’s pretty clear that TfL want Crossrail to be one of the world’s best metro services. We recognise that and so it will be about meeting the challenge of the ITT, that we expect to see in a couple of months’ time, and responding to their bid early next year.’

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