kevin sinclair's hong kong

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 15 March, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 15 March, 2006, 12:00am

You are riding the Kowloon-Canton Railway. Suddenly, without explanation, the train is stuck in a station. What's happening? Nobody knows. You wait and wait and finally the carriages move. Chances are the delay is caused by some yokel from a remote mainland village who has decided to take a shortcut across the tracks.

It happens frequently. And the people solely to blame for these breaks in service are managers of the troubled railway. KCRC does not prosecute irresponsible and mindless fools who try to save a couple of seconds and cut across the tracks instead of using the underpasses and bridges.

The predictable result of this lily-livered practice is that people risk shortcuts. When they do, it can plunge operations into chaos.

In January, a 48-year-old mainland woman was killed and her son badly hurt when they ignored all warnings and tried to walk across rail tracks at Sheung Shui. Astonishingly, KCRC managers then gave the hapless survivor a cash handout.

Can you believe it? They refuse to explain why they pay people who break their by-laws. And they refuse to say how much they gave. Well, after all, it's only taxpayers' money.

Last year, 37 people were caught ignoring plainly posted warning signs at KCR stations. They shrugged off potential fines of up to $5,000 and potential jail terms of six months. Not one was prosecuted.

How come? Ask KCRC officials and you find the malefactors were given verbal warnings 'because they are basically travellers from the mainland'.

What sort of inane logic is this? People do something as outstandingly dumb as climb down onto the tracks, bring a multibillion-dollar transport system to a shuddering stop, cause inconvenience to thousands of commuters, cost taxpayers a huge amount of money ... and the KCRC gives them a chat and a pat on the back! This is not just incompetence on behalf of KCRC management but borders on the criminally irresponsible.

The corporation should adopt an inflexible policy of prosecuting every single infraction. It should then publicise each case. Every idiot caught should be photographed and, after conviction, their pictures and details should be displayed at KCR stations.

Harsh? Yes. Effective? I bet it would be.

The KCRC dishes out safety leaflets. It has platform supervisors who are supposed to 'closely monitor the situation at platforms to ensure safety'. This is a useless gesture. They would better ensure safety by arresting people who break the rules.

Contrast this slack and spineless policy with that of the MTR Corp. If some idiot is caught trying to clamber down and walk across their rails, they are invariably prosecuted and fined. Surprise, surprise! There are few such offences on the MTR.

Last year there was one single case. It involved a 13-year-old boy arrested at Kwai Hing station. The wilful teenager was warned by MTR staff. His details were taken. The case was referred to MTR Corp's legal department, which urged that the boy be prosecuted. He and his parents then had to stand in front of a magistrate in a juvenile court.

The MTR Corp does not prosecute people too often. There are two reasons why. First, there are only four stations on the entire extended system (Tsuen Wan, Kwai Fong, Kwai Hing and Heng Fa Chuen) where it is possible to cross the tracks to catch another train.

Second, every passenger knows that if they are caught doing this on the MTR, they will be charged and go to court.

On the KCR, by contrast, the weak-willed management all but offers an invitation to idiots to cross the rails; they don't prosecute anyone, and if someone gets hurt by breaking the law and displaying stupidity, the KCRC gives them a handout. Incredible!

I asked KCRC, when was the last time someone was taken before the courts for crossing the rails. They couldn't tell me.

Police have a welcome and brisk approach to the problem. If a patrolling constable spots someone trying to climb down onto the tracks, they are stopped. If they are on the tracks, they are removed. Then they are handed over to management for action to be taken under the railway by-laws.

What this means, in effect, is that if you are caught on the MTR you will be prosecuted. If you try the same thing on the KCR, you will be patted on the back, told not to do it again, and possibly set free with a nice wad of cash in your pocket.

This contrast helps explain the vast difference in management between the two railways. One works efficiently. The other doesn't.