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Route Twisk [1953- ]
Named after: The initials of the places at each end of the road, Tsuen Wan and Sek Kong. The new Route Twisk, shown in blue, was a much more direct connection than the old route, shown in red.
- 1950: In August, the British Army's Royal Engineers started work.
- 1953: The first traffic ran along the road in May. The road was only for military vehicles at this time.
- 1961: In May, the government took over responsibility for the road, and it was opened to civilian traffic. (Source in comments below)
Bryan Panter was in Hong Kong with the army in 1957-58, stationed at Sek Kong. He sent us this 1957 article from "Soldier" magazine:
The Army is always building new roads somewhere. Just now, the Royal Engineers are opening up new areas of Kenya and Malaya to wheeled vehicles, but the most spectacular of their recent achievements is in Hong Kong.
It consists of a short-cut across the New Territories, on the Asian mainland, to the prepared defences facing the Bamboo Curtain. Until Route Twisk was opened, the journey from Kowloon, in the south, involved detours by east or west round the main mass of hills. Either way the civilian roads are narrow, twisting, crowded and dangerous. In an emergency, they would put a brake on the Army’s defence effort.
Twisk, by cutting through the hills, as nearly as the contours permit in a straight line, is much quicker and safer. The journey from Tsun Wan, in the south, to Sek Kong at the northern end of Twisk is now one of only seven miles, against 23. It is, by the way, from the initials of these two places that Twisk gets its name, with the “i” thrown in to make a pronounceable word.
The new road is designed to carry the Army’s largest vehicles and guns, and its gradients are gentle, although it rises from sea-level to 1566 feet and descends to near sea-level again.
Work on the road began in August 1950 and the first traffic went through about May 1953, but the task is not yet completed. For another couple of years, Twisk will be “settling down,” a process which reveals flaws needing new work such as additional retaining walls. It is estimated that the total cost will be about six million Hong Kong dollars, or £375,000.
Royal Engineers did the “formation work,” altering the face of the earth by making cuttings and filling in depressions. Contractors then put in the drainage, foundations and surface.
For the Sappers it was a difficult task. The rock through which they had sometimes to blast a way was blue granite, some of the hardest rock in the world, and rock-crushers and other plant wore out at an alarming rate.
Twisk was one of the few new roads in Hong Kong which did not have to be diverted to avoid a Chinese grave, because the hills through which it passes are mainly uninhabited. At some places, however, jars containing the bones of somebody’s ancestors had to be moved, and compensation was paid.
Chinese belief in dragons was more troublesome. Villagers erect bamboo fences and gates to stop dragons damaging the crops. One of these gates was on a road over which lorries engaged on the project had to pass, and it delayed them. So the Royal Engineers, with the doubtful agreement of the villagers, dismantled it and set up in its place a steel drop-gate.
After a while, the villagers reported that the new gate kept the dragons out so well that their crops were better than ever before. The news got around and the gate became an object of envy to other villages—so much so that the Sappers had to keep a close watch on their stock of steel pipes of the kind used to make it.
The road-builders planned for Hong Kong’s sudden rainstorms when boulders four feet in diameter are swept along like pebbles. One stretch of the road is liable to be covered with three feet of water (which clears in ten minutes) and is made of solid concrete four-and-a-half feet thick.
[The original author misinterpreted the photo above. As Gwulo contributor tngan notes, these channels are part of the catchwater system feeding water to the reservoirs.]
Maintenance, particularly in the settling-down period, is a heavy item in the Twisk budget. Chinese watchmen, all foremen engineers, patrol the road by night, more often in the wet season than in the dry. In the dry season they report damage due to shrinkage only about once in three months. In the wet season gangs are likely to be called out as often as once a fortnight.
There is a permanent maintenance gang of a foreman and 20 coolies in the dry season and a larger one in the wet season. In addition, the villagers of Cheong Long, who worked on the road when it was being built and remember that they were well paid by the Army, are willing to produce a coolie force of 60 (of both sexes), at a moment’s notice, day or night, for emergency repair work. The road has never been closed for longer than five hours.
Like any other mountain road, Twisk, with its curves and gradients, is potentially dangerous. So it has a speed limit of 30 miles an hour for vehicles of less than a ton load and 20 miles an hour for heavier vehicles. When cloud rests on the top of the pass, visibility is less than in London smog and most drivers, seeing the cloud from below, take the long way.
Twisk is a purely military road and is closed to almost all civilian vehicles. Service drivers ride merrily past the “No Entry” signs at each end of the road. It’s a fine feeling, they say.
Ron Wallis was one of the Sappers performing the "formation work" described above. He sent in these photos of him at work on his D7 bulldozer:
Thanks to Bryan and Ron for sharing their photos with us.