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Hong Kong Tramways’ old tram depot

Hong Kong’s first vertical mall

What is now the Hong Kong’s supreme shopping mall and tourist hotspot with foot traffic of over 150 thousand people each day, used to be the humble old Russell Street tram depot. Back in the 1970s, when Wharf acquired HK Tramways and planned to relocate the depot to Sai Wan Ho and Sai Ying Pun to free up land and save cost, Causeway Bay was a residential area and not the prime commercial real estate it is today. At the time — the days before the MTR and the Cross-Harbour Tunnel — this part of town was ‘not very attractive’, and acquiring the site to build ‘a vertical mall’ was a gamble.

The early ding ding days

Hong Kong trams have been an essential part of the city’s history since 1904. In the early years, the powerhouse that supplied the whole tramline was next to the Bowrington Canal, fired by coal that was carried on barges sailing from the harbour up the canal. The very first depot was next to the powerhouse and could accommodate the original fleet of 26 single-deck tram cars.

Bigger and better

By the early 1920s, Hong Kong Tramways began to purchase power from HK Electric. The old powerhouse and depot were flattened, and a new depot with a capacity of over 100 trams was built at Russell Street in Causeway Bay.Ex-tram driver Kong Siu-man recalls: “This is where trams went to sleep at night and in the in the morning the trams left the depot one by one in a long chain — it looked like a dragon.”

Russell Street Market

Over the years the area just outside the depot walls developed into a popular street market: the Russell Street Market.Kong remembers those days: “When I’d finish my shift, I’d go to one of the many dai pai dongs to eat. They had congee, tong shui, coffee, milk tea, seafood, offal,” he recalls. “I especially loved the scallops.”

Tracks to nowhere?

All traces of the Russell Street Depot have been erased. “The depot was a fascinating place,” says tram enthusiast Michael Chan. “I loved to sneak in and watch the engineers fix the trams. I went to the depot on the last day of its operation. For me, it was the most significant landmark of Causeway Bay.” Yet, near the old Canal Road depot, tram enthusiasts found a track which terminates abruptly. After pouring over historic maps, they confirmed that the tracks used to lead straight into the old depot.

The depot was a fascinating place. I went to the depot on the last day of its operation. For me, it was the most significant landmark of Causeway Bay.
— Michael Chan
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