Chaos warning over MTR work

PUBLISHED : Friday, 05 August, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 05 August, 2011, 12:00am

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A three-day partial shutdown of rail services on Hong Kong Island begins tonight amid warnings of potential chaos if any breakdowns occur over the next 18 months - as the MTR Corporation apologised for four disruptions in the past three days.

Trains between Admiralty and Sheung Wan are being suspended until early on Monday to allow for work to link the Island Line to the under-construction West Island Line.

But the construction work also means the closure of a siding at Sheung Wan into which broken-down trains are usually shunted. MTR Corporation has warned that this could lead to longer-than-usual delays in the case of breakdowns, like one that left 2,400 commuters stranded as smoke bellowed from a train at Wan Chai on Wednesday.

After the siding's closure any train that suddenly stops at Central or Sheung Wan will have to be taken to Admiralty instead.

'The MTR has got to be very sensitive now,' Central and Western district councillor Cheng Lai-king said yesterday.

'If anything happens at Central or Sheung Wan, it must order an immediate evacuation at Admiralty as well - it would be a key buffer.'

Shuttle buses will replace trains between Admiralty and Sheung Wan for the next three days.

MTR chief operations engineer Morris Cheung Siu-wa, meanwhile, apologised on a radio programme for the four incidents that included two breakdowns, a signal failure and a platform door malfunction.

'I know there have been some incidents recently that affected our service to the public, so please let me say sorry to our fellow passengers,' Cheung said, rejecting suggestions from workers that staff shortages were to blame.

He said a power failure triggered by 'problems of in-train electrical appliances' caused the Island Line breakdown, while a similar incident at Tai Wai the same day was blamed on problems with the installation of wires during an overhaul of the train.

On Monday a signal failure disrupted Tung Chung station, and the following day new platform screen doors at Kowloon Bay broke. At least a dozen other incidents have been reported on the MTR this year.

Legislator Andrew Cheng Kar-foo blamed the government.

'The government never exerts a lot of pressure on the MTR,' said Cheng, chairman of the Legislative Council's transport panel.

Transport sector lawmaker Miriam Lau Kin-yee said the MTR had not yet given legislators a report on cracks in lines found earlier this year.

Cheung said trains that ran on the first MTR line in 1979 were still running today without a breakdown, and as the system was regularly renewed there were no safety concerns. But Cheng asked: 'If the MTR doesn't have any problem, as it claims, why are there constant incidents?'

An MTR spokesman said last night that trains breaking down in Central and Sheung Wan would take longer to handle over the next 18 months. But he said more manpower would be assigned to monitor the Island Line and the company would seek help from other public transport operators in an emergency.