Hong Kong on move, by giant escalator Half-mile system runs over streets, through buildings

June 27, 1993|By New York Times News Service

HONG KONG -- In a novel feat of engineering, Hong Kong is close to completing a transportation system that will carry tens of thousands of people to and from their homes and offices on a giant outdoor escalator covered with a transparent plastic canopy.

The escalator, which looks very much like something from the futuristic Jetsons cartoons, snakes its way through some of the oldest sections of hilly Hong Kong, following paths once taken by sedan chair carriers transporting the wealthy families to their hillside homes.

The system is about 880 yards long -- roughly a half-mile -- and runs through buildings, over streets and across bridges, linking the fashionable, high-rise apartment buildings of the Mid-Levels area to the imposing office towers of Central, the business district by the city's harbor.

The escalator is expected to open in late August, seven months behind schedule, having cost $27 million, Hong Kong government officials said. Construction began in March 1991.

"This is not a cheap transportation system, but given the characteristics of Hong Kong, it makes sense," said Richard Garrett, managing director of Maunsell Consultants Asia, the company that designed it.

Mid-Levels, like much of Hong Kong, clings to the sides of a hill. Its narrow, winding roads are choked with traffic, but there is virtually no room to widen them, and building new arteries in this old, densely populated area would be highly disruptive. Officials have already built overpass upon overpass.

The escalator system, actually a continuous path of 20 escalators and three moving walkways, can carry 27,000 to 30,000 people a day and 5,800 an hour during rush hour, said a consulting engineer on the project, C. K. Chan of the Hong Kong Highway Department.

"The ride from the top to the bottom, beginning to end, will take about 20 minutes, but there are 23 places you can exit in between," he said.

Jacques Rafini, managing director of CNIM Hong Kong, the French company supplying the escalators, said they would move slightly more slowly than conventional indoor escalators. The plan calls for all the system's escalators to start moving downward when commuters head to work in the morning and then reverse direction at 11 a.m. for people traveling from Central at midday and for commuters returning home later. It will halt around 10 p.m.

There will be no charge for the escalator, which is owned by the Hong Kong government.

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