MTR delays blamed on computer error

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 23 January, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 23 January, 2010, 12:00am

A blunder by a data transmission operator was blamed for a shutdown of MTR trains on Thursday night that stranded 10,000 passengers.

The operator made a mistake while running a computer program as he inspected a data transmission network for the East Rail Line, disabling the centralised monitoring of trains along the line, said Dr Jacob Kam Chak-pui, head of operations engineering for MTR Corporation.

'Since we could no longer centrally monitor the trains, we decided to halt the service out of concern for safety,' Kam said.

Train services from Hung Hom to Lo Wu and Lok Ma Chau were suspended from 7.20pm to 8.20pm.

Passengers crowded ticketing windows at various stations, complaining about refund arrangements and yelling at station staff. The company arranged for buses to transport passengers, and long queues to board the vehicles quickly formed.

Legislator Andrew Cheng Kar-foo said it was unacceptable that there was no emergency plan in place to fix computer problems more quickly. 'It's puzzling that no software was available to correct the mistake, with MTR often boasting of its 'excellent' services,' Cheng said.

The government should introduce rules imposing penalties when train delays lasted longer than eight minutes, he said.

The operator who made the mistake worked for a supplier of the MTR Corp's data transmission network, Kam said. The MTR Corp would tighten rules on external experts visiting its facilities and set up a standby control station, he said.

'We'll create a standby work station to allow the central control room to continue functioning even when the data network is faulty,' he said. The shutdown is among the most serious disruptions in recent memory on the MTR network.

The Transport Department said late on Thursday it had asked the MTR Corp to submit a report on the case as soon as possible.

On August 1 last year, about 1,200 passengers were affected when train services between Mong Kok East and East Tsim Sha Tsui shut down for 40 minutes after a transformer station at Ho Man Tin broke down.