Faulty brakes may be cause of rail woes

PUBLISHED : Monday, 27 July, 1998, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 27 July, 1998, 12:00am

Suspected brake problems on the MTR's sleek new trains could be behind much of the recent rail disruption and delays to services.

Technical problems are forcing drivers to use mostly manual braking which wears out brake pads faster than normal.

The disclosure came as breakdowns and other problems continued to dog the $35 billion Airport Express and the Tung Chung Line last week.

Travellers missed flights and thousands of passengers were stranded after a points failure disrupted the systems.

Passengers have also complained about delays and infrequent services.

Sources said many of the hiccups stemmed from braking problems on the trains. Electric trains are usually slowed by their motors, similar to how a car slows down by changing down gears and releasing the accelerator.

But the Spanish-made trains on the new lines, capable of speeds up to 135km/h, are often having to use manual braking due to motor problems.

One engineer said the power components for the motors were blowing up in droves and could be defective.

'These things are blowing up with remarkable frequency - some 10 per cent of the trains are sitting in the depot with these blown parts,' the source said, adding that the problem was also stripping teeth off gears. 'This is causing many of the problems affecting the new rail lines and any outsider strolling through the depot can see this. The trains and depots should be inspected [by authorities].' An MTRC spokesman admitted the manual brakes were being used more often but denied any defects, saying there were some small problems as the brakes were being 'fine tuned'.

'Sometimes the brakes are being applied too heavily and are wearing out more quickly,' she said.

Transport panel legislator and engineer Dr Raymond Ho Chung-tai said he would try to arrange an inspection of the MTR depot on Lantau since the recent delays were greatly affecting passengers, particularly those catching flights.

'This is of grave concern and definitely warrants a Transport Panel visit to the depot,' he said.

Dr Ho said he would take it up with panel chairman Miriam Lau Kin-yee.

The company is compiling a detailed report of last week's incident for the Rail Inspectorate of the Transport Bureau.

The incident, in which a point was damaged as a faulty train moved into a siding, was attributed to human error.