MTR pushes new safety door plan: but who pays?

PUBLISHED : Friday, 14 January, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 14 January, 2011, 12:00am

The MTR Corp wants to install safety doors on its East Rail line and the new Sha Tin to Central link at the same time, saying this will save money and help overcome technical difficulties.

But it says it will try not to charge passengers a levy for the work, as was done on other parts of the network, and will not use any of the budget for the HK$60 billion new line to pay for it, leaving questions about where the money will come from.

Lawmakers reacted angrily to suggestions the government should pay, saying the MTR was earning enough to pay for its own work.

In a paper prepared for legislators - backed by the Transport and Housing Bureau - the MTR suggested the installation could be done in tandem with the Central line, which will link to East Rail and use the same doors and related equipment.

MTR chief operations officer for engineering Morris Cheung Siu-wa said yesterday this option would cost a lot less, but he did not know yet what the actual cost would be.

Cheung said technical issues related to fitting the East Rail doors as a stand-alone project could take 10 years to overcome. The project would require a new signalling system, new trains, new ways to fill the platform gaps, and redesigns of the platforms' structure and ventilation systems, he told a media briefing.

As a separate project, the work would overlap at the sites for the two projects, causing delays to one or the other, and creating waste. But as the new line would use the same equipment, working on the two projects together would save a lot of money.

In a reply to the paper, the bureau said doing the two jobs in tandem was a sensible and cost-effective approach. Cheung said the corporation would discuss the cost of the East Rail work with the government.

Independent lawmaker Andrew Cheng Kar-foo said platform screen doors were an important part of the MTR's services, but he did not think the MTR should take money from the government. 'They earned a lot last year and are still try to get money from us,' he said. 'This is awful. We are already paying for the existing doors until 2017.'

MTR began charging 10 HK cents from each Octopus card user in July 2000 to fund the construction of platform screen doors at 30 underground stations and eight above-ground stations. By the middle of last year it had collected HK$775 million and, based on its patronage figures, it is expected the collection will last until 2017.

In 2008, it spent HK$300 million on platform screen doors at eight above-ground stations, at an average cost of HK$32.5 million per station.

Democrat lawmaker Wong Sing-chi said the MTR was using the East Rail line to threaten Legco and gain support for the Sha Tin Central line. 'This is unethical,' he said. 'Screen doors must be covered by the MTR totally. Also, this is a way for them to show passengers they care. They should do it as soon as possible, and do it separately.'

Greg Wong Chak-yan, a veteran civil engineer who helped build the urban line some 30 years ago, said a large part of the cost went on the alteration and building of signalling, mechanical and pressure loading systems.

'If such systems were to be built one way or another, adding a platform screen door should add just a tiny portion of extra costs,' he said.

The Sha Tin-Central link - the city's fourth cross-harbour railway - will connect the people of East Kowloon and the Northeast New Territories to Hong Kong Island. Work on the line will begin in 2012 at an estimated cost of more than HK$60 billion, rather than the HK$38.1 billion projected in 2007.

That would make the 17km line almost as expensive as the HK$66.9 billion, 26km high-speed railway from Hong Kong to Guangzhou. And the cost could go higher.

Last week, lawmakers from across the political spectrum voted to delay funding for the link, saying it was too expensive. Some also objected to taxpayers being asked to foot the bill for the line's construction when the MTR Corporation would reap the revenue.

But Wong said the funding was likely be passed late this month or early February.

Long, expensive ride

MTR passengers have already paid more than HK$775 million for safety doors. Millions more will be collected until: 2017