• Mon
  • Sep 1, 2014
  • Updated: 3:40am
My Take
PUBLISHED : Friday, 18 April, 2014, 3:14am
UPDATED : Friday, 18 April, 2014, 3:14am

MTR and Hong Kong government must come clean over railway delay

Delays and cost overruns are almost inevitable with mega public works projects everywhere. The question for officials in charge is how to be transparent and come clean with taxpayers footing the bill.

There is no question the much-heralded HK$67 billion high-speed railway linking Hong Kong with Guangzhou poses immense technical challenges. But the way MTR officials have suddenly revealed a two-year delay - which apparently surprised even transport chief Professor Anthony Cheung Bing-leung, an MTR board member - raises serious doubts about the MTR's transparency and credibility.

The 26-kilometre Hong Kong underground link was originally scheduled to open next year. Now it looks like it won't happen until at least 2017.

Officials like MTR network projects director Chew Tai-chong have blamed the weather and elements like geological factors for causing the delay.

He said heavy rain last month flooded a construction site and seriously damaged a tunnel boring machine. He also said geological conditions turned out to be more complicated than anticipated.

All these sounded like Mother Nature was to blame, not the MTR.

The funny thing is that as early as May last year, there were already reports that the project faced substantial delays. But MTR officials kept denying this.

More recently, they changed their tune, saying the link might have to open in 2016.

No one ever says it's easy to build what is the equivalent of a 10-storey building underground at the West Kowloon terminus, among other challenges.

But we have no way of knowing because the MTR has been less than forthcoming all along, creating the impression that it is not telling us everything.

For example, it won't say what is causing a delay that will push back the opening by two years when damage to the tunnel boring machine will only delay things by about nine months, nor exactly how much of a cost overrun we are looking at besides saying there is a HK$4.4 billion contingency fund to dip into. Is that supposed to be reassuring?

Whatever caused the delay and any cost overrun, it's time for the MTR and the government to come clean.


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This article is now closed to comments

The first thing I would like to know- was the previous target date based on politics or engineering?
Recall the airport rail line - MTR stuck to their reality based construction timeline, resisting strong pressure from the Anson Chan crowd, who demanded a technically impossible one year improvement in the start-up date - to match the completion date of the air terminals ( which we later found out were never properly inspected and debugged - )
Today - MTR is managing an unprecedented 4 major rail line construction projects all at one time - 2 of which should have been built years ago if it had not been for bureaucrats who were too busy perfecting their procrastination skills.
So yes - the bureaucrats are going to have a wonderfully theatrical time, pretending to be totally outraged at one of HK's better managed companies, to deflect attention from their own performance failures
The truth in reporting the delay only comes clean with Professor Cheung – he was caught genuinely surprised by it. The project director may have mishandled the progress report in not informing the Transport Minister the facts. There is no reason for the Professor to hide the delay but much is at stake for the project director if he is only thinking about his job security. Silly thinking though.
SCMP: why a picture of a structure above ground? The problem as reported is flooding in the tunnel and the breaking down of the boring machine in Yuen Long. Even a diagram showing the progress of the tunneling work would be more a service to our readers. So SCMP do some digging.
The MTR is no longer an engineering-led transportation company financed via property development. It is now a property developer that owns a transport division.
The accountants are in charge, not the engineers. All of the MTR's recent transport-related problems, including train & platform overcrowding, poor planning & execution of major capital projects and technical breakdowns in the system itself, stem from this fact.
Renewed dedication to the MTR's original transport and engineering mission is required. New leadership is called for.
MTRC is a private company with shareholders but the government is the major shareholder.
A glitch that calls for a delay and extra expanse, I would like to know how the government is to reconcile between the interests of private and public which it represents simultaneously.
MTRC is a convoluted setup aiming to make money rather than providing public services at its best. Probably it is managed by a bunch of businessmen like a property developer.


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