The Kowloon-Canton Railway company was established in the beginning of the 20th Century by the Government of Hong Kong to build a line that would provide a faster connection between the British colony and Canton (Guangzhou) and the rest of mainland China. Construction of the railway began in 1905, with the 34Km-long “British section” of the line (between Kowloon and the border) opening on the 1st of October 1910.
Initially, traffic on the railway was relatively low, as it passed trough largely undeveloped lands. With the opening of the “Chinese section”, from the border to Canton in 1911 passenger and freight traffic began to reach sizeable levels. After the second world war, when Hong Kong returned under British rule (after having been occupied by the Japanese) the railway was in a dilapdated state, with rolling stock having to be urgently sourced from Britain.
Direct cross-border between Hong Kong and mainland China ceased in 1949 due to the onset of the Chinese Civil War, with transshipment of passengers and freight having to be done at the border crossing at Lo Wu station. From the mid-1950s onwards, the railway began to be gradually dieselized, with the introduction between 1954 and 1957 of the first five EMD G12 diesel locomotives built by Clyde Engineering in Australia, followed by four slightly more powerful EMD G16s (also built by Clyde Engineering) between 1961 and 1966, replacing all steam locomotives in operation by the early 1960s.
However, apart the early-on dieselization, by the mid-1970s the KCR wasn’t particularily different to how it was in the late 1940s, as the railway was still using token signalling and lever-frame interlocking thruought the entirety of it’s line, equipment and procedures that were becoming increasingly inadequate (along with the mostly single-track nature of the line) in order to cope with the ever increasing rideship of the line, thanks to the development of several “New Towns” along it.
Therefore, in the late-1970s a general modernization of the KCR was planned, with the double-tracking and electrification of the line (using 25Kv 50Hz AC catenary), the introduction of faster electric multiple units built in Britain by Metro-Cammell and the adoption of an atuomated block signalling and computerized interlocking (based on British Rail’s standards) and the introduction of a modern electronic ticketing system.
Coinciding with the modernization, KCR itself as a company was restructured, ceasing to be a government department and becoming a pubblic corporation with the new (altough seldom-used) official name of “Kowloon-Canton Railway Corporation” (KCRC).
The Kowloon-Canton Railway began electrified services on the 16th of July 1983, a date that is considered the second-most important in the history of the KCR, behind the opening of the railway itself. “Domestic” diesel services ceased on the same day, but diesel locomotives were retained for the direct cross-border services (both passenger and freight) to Canton, wich had been resumed in 1979, being operated jointly by the KCR and the Chinese Railways.
In 1988, the Light Rail network in Tuen Mun new town opened, having been built and operated by KCR (instead of the MTR) on a government invitation.
In the mid-1990s, the ridership of the KCR had skyrocketed, with the railway having evolved from a suburban-like railway to something close to a “full subway line” like the ones operated by MTR. At the same time, the KCR proceeded to made it’s first “heavy-rail” network expansion in almost a century, with the start of works on the “West Rail Line” from Kowloon to Tuen Ma (wich opened in 2003) and later the Ma On Shan Line (opened in 2004), wich branched off the “original” Kowloon-Canton Railway (soon renamed as the “East Rail Line”) at Tai Wai.
In 1997 trough-trains to mainland china were re-organized, with the introduction of the double-decker “KTT” (Kowloon Trough Train) service between Hong Kong and Guangzhou.
For several decades, the KCR had been the only railway company operating in Hong Kong, however, since the opening of the MTR system in 1979 and the subsequent expansion of the latter’s network, a merger between the two companies, in order to simplify the management of the railway network, had been pondered by the government. Various proposals had been made for several years, but the concept only gained traction from the 2000s onwards. In 2006, the decision was taken, with KCR to be merged into MTR.
The merger came in force on the 2nd of December 2007, with KCR effectively ceasing to function as a railway. Currently, KCR as a company does still actually exist, altough only as a management entity for it’s former network.