It was the world’s first air-conditioned subway system – and so much more…

October 1, 1979

Hong Kong’s Mass Transit Railway (MTR) made its debut with the opening of the first five miles (8.1 kilometers) of the Kwun Tong Line. “As champagne corks popped and a Chinese dragon danced for luck,” reported the Associated Press later that week, “Hong Kong christened its new subway system on Sunday and sent the first trains on their maiden runs under the teeming streets of this British colony.”

The impetus for a rapid transit railway network to serve that British colony (now an autonomous Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China) arose from efforts to address the ever-growing traffic problems in that densely populated corner of the world. Construction on the MTR began during the late 1960s. 

To help mark the grand opening of that system, approximately 1,000 people paid $100 each for a charity breakfast of champagne and caviar. Sir Murray MacLehose, Hong Kong’s governor, pressed a button in the cab of the first outbound train at the Shek Kip Mei Station that sent that train moving along the track and into a red banner; as planned, the banner ripped apart as those silver cars picked up speed. Lady Nöel “Squeak” MacLehose, the governor’s wife, performed the push-button honors for the first inbound train from the Kwun Tong station. The first trains were on time and provided generally smooth rides, even though there were a few herky-jerky movements en route. In addition, an extra jolt at one station arrival brought about what one news report called “some lurching moments of togetherness for those packed aboard.” 

The MTR, which presently encompasses 159 stations and 135.6 miles (218.2 kilometers) of rail, was promoted as the world’s first fully air-conditioned subway system. The MTR also has the distinction of being one of the most profitable public transportation networks of its kind throughout the world. For more information on Hong Kong’s Mass Transit Railway (MTR), please check out

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