Not everyone would encourage the public to hang out in their workplace. But not everyone has a workplace like Jarvis and Apple. And no, it’s not a hotel or a mall. It’s a train station – the Hong Kong West Kowloon Station, where cross-boundary high-speed trains arrive and depart the city.
Jarvis, the station master, and his colleague Apple, station officer, both recommend a visit to the station even if you are not travelling by train. “You can get dim sum at Tim Ho Wan and pick up a Taiwanese-style beverage at Chun Shui Tang,” says Apple. “And then take your time to explore the station’s unique architecture, especially the green spaces.”
The station’s design has won it many awards. The most distinct feature is that it accommodates most of its facilities underground, with a large green plaza overlooking the harbour on the ground level. “Most high speed rail stations are above ground,” says Jarvis. “But this one is more than 40-metres below the surface. That’s really unusual and technically challenging to build.” He also recommends watching out for architectural features, such as the nine columns used to support the atrium and the glass curtain wall, which comprises 4,000 irregular glass panels.
“If you are departing Hong Kong by train, get a photo of the beautiful green wall in the Departure Concourse,” suggests Apple, referring to a green wall that incorporates an art work by celebrated Chinese artist Qiu Zhijie. “Even if you are not departing, you can still see it from the floor above the concourse.” And Jarvis thinks the most photogenic feature of the station is its Observation Deck. “Walk along the Sky Corridor and you can get a view of Victoria Harbour from a new angle,” he says. “Better yet, time your visit for dusk to catch the sunset or 8pm to see A Symphony of Lights [light show].”
Of course, Jarvis and Apple are usually too busy to watch the sunset. Connected to China’s vast national high speed rail network, Hong Kong West Kowloon Station is designed to handle tens of thousands of passengers a day. Jarvis and Apple are two of over 700 employees. And they play key roles in ensuring that travelling through the station is a smooth experience.
Despite seeming to know every corner of the 400,000 m2 station, Jarvis actually spends most of his time in the control room. He has worked for the MTR Corporation, which operates Hong Kong’s railways, for three years. In 2018, he joined the high speed rail team and went from managing trains to managing people. "In the past, I was mainly responsible for train operations and rules,” he says. “Right now, I have to oversee the entire station, and I mainly focus on passenger experiences. From the station operating facilities, such as air conditioning and fire prevention, to crowd control, I have to monitor everything related to passengers."
Station masters need to be alert. “We have to keep our eyes peeled and be ready to make fast decisions and handle incidents that suddenly crop up,” says Jarvis. To make sure the station runs smoothly, he also has to liaise with a variety of groups every day, including Customs, Police, the Fire Department, the Department of Health, as well as China Immigration Inspection from Mainland China. “I need to be flexible,” he adds. “Different groups have different ways of working. And situations on the ground change quickly.” And the work of station masters continues even when the station is closed, which is when facility maintenance and testing is carried out.
However, passengers and visitor to the station are far more likely to meet Apple. As a station officer, she’s on the frontline, helping passengers solve problems. And lost travel documents are the most common problem she deals with. “Recently, I had a passenger who came here on a train from Guangzhou and mislaid his bag, which contained his and his family member’s passports,” she recalls. “He was Taiwanese and had a US passport. It would be difficult to get new passports re-issued quickly. He was rushing to attend a meeting but was stuck at the boundary unable to enter Hong Kong. I contacted my colleagues who work on the train he travelled on and in the meantime tried to comfort him and his family by explaining what was happening and the possible different scenarios. Luckily, in this case, they found their passports on the train and they were able to continue with their journey.”
Communication is an important skill for station officers and Apple underwent three months of on-the-job training, which included everything from a basic knowledge of railway operations to customer service. But language skills are the biggest asset a station officer in the Hong Kong West Kowloon Station can have. “The high-speed rail network is massive,” she explains. “Passengers come from all over Mainland China and have very different dialects and accents; some I have never heard before. Even with strong Mandarin skills, it can sometimes be challenging. And then there are also lots of travellers from other countries, who don’t speak Chinese or English fluently. Often, I have to use body language, gestures and lots of patience.”
Hopefully, you’ll never need Apple’s assistance. But why not follow her, and Jarvis’, suggestion to check out the harbour views and architecture of the Hong Kong West Kowloon Station. At least, you can rest assured that they and their colleagues are working hard behind the scenes to make your visit as stress-free as possible.
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