Train blast spells fresh woes for KCRC

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 15 February, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 15 February, 2007, 12:00am

Oil leak in transformer causes explosion in West Rail tunnel; Watchdog launches inquiry as rail chief calls fire freak accident

The equipment problems that haunted the KCRC for the whole of last year returned dramatically yesterday when a faulty transformer on a West Rail train exploded inside a tunnel.

The explosion and fire, which forced the evacuation of 1,100 rush hour passengers and sent 11 to hospital, came as the rail operator was poised to announce the end of marathon improvement efforts launched after cracks were discovered in welds on the undercarriages of East Rail trains last year.

The southbound train from Tuen Mun stopped inside the Tai Lam Tunnel 2km from Tsuen Wan West station at about 9.15am when the explosion in the overhead transformer between the sixth and seventh carriages of the train cut off power.

Passengers heard a bang and saw smoke pouring into the seven-carriage train. Confusion ensued.

'I heard a loud bang. I felt heat and saw a fireball came toward us. Some passengers fell to the floor in one carriage,' a woman told Cable TV.

Another passenger, Mr Wu, said he smelt a strange odour after the train left the Kam Sheung Road station. He described the blast as being like a fireworks display.

'The explosion was very powerful and the boom almost damaged my eardrum. Sparks fell from the roof.'

The tunnel was closed after the accident. Normal services did not resume until 12.45pm. Shuttle buses ferried passengers around the closed section of line.

The injured - five men and six women - included a woman nine months pregnant, who needed hospital treatment after having to walk 30 minutes through the tunnel towards Tsuen Wan with the other passengers.

The Railways Inspectorate has launched an investigation of the incident.

KCRC chief executive James Blake apologised for the inconvenience and discomfort caused to passengers but said contingency plans had worked well and passengers had been brought out safely.

Some commuters disagreed with him. They said they were asked to get off the train before the tunnel's ventilation system was switched on, and said there were few KCRC staff to guide them out.

The Environment, Transport and Works Bureau said it was very concerned about the incident and had ordered the KCRC to submit a report on the cause.

Mr Blake, who said it was the first time he had heard of a transformer failure on a train anywhere, said the Japanese manufacturer of the transformers had agreed to send representatives to Hong Kong today to help find out what happened.

A preliminary investigation identified the cause as a leakage of oil on to the transformer's electric coil. However, it is not yet known whether what happened was the manufacturer's fault or the result of mistakes by railway mechanics who approved the transformer after an inspection in July and again at the end of last year.

Unlike the problems on East Rail, which mainly affected trains built in the early 1990s, the faulty transformer was among a batch of 86 put into service in 2002.

They were fitted to trains running on East Rail, West Rail and the Ma On Shan line.

A thorough check of rolling stock was being carried out overnight to determine whether West Rail services would run as normal today.

A news conference scheduled for yesterday to announce the end of the East Rail improvement work, has been rescheduled for today.