Light-rail fire adds to MTR's troubles
Blaze comes one day after five-hour shutdown on Tseung Kwan O line; bosses face questions over use of contractors for maintenance
Ada Lee and Clifford Lo
The MTR suffered its second setback in 24 hours yesterday when one of its light-rail trains burst into flames, sparking the evacuation of 160 rush-hour passengers.
The incident, in Tin Shui Wai, came less than a day after a power failure halted services on the Tseung Kwan O MTR line for almost five hours, prompting concerns over the contracting out of maintenance work on the line.
No one was injured in yesterday's fire but fire crews and ambulances sped to the scene shortly before 9am after smoke was seen billowing from the air-conditioning system on the roof at the rear of the two-carriage train near Tin Wu.
The 160 passengers were evacuated at Tin Wu and the burning train was taken to an emergency platform at Hung Tin Road, where fire crews took 15 minutes to douse the flames.
The blaze followed Monday's major incident which closed down the Tseung Kwan O line for hours, leaving MTR employees and lawmakers questioning whether a policy of contracting out maintenance work was a contributing factor.
Maintenance has been carried out by subcontractors since the line opened in 2002. One MTR worker said the quality of maintenance was so unsatisfactory that, earlier this year, 10 workers from other lines had to be redeployed to work on the track, which runs from Hong Kong Island to the eastern New Territories.
Monday's problems began when a 30-metre length of overhead cable came loose between Yau Tong and Tiu King Leng stations on a stretch of track shared by the Kwun Tong line.
A Kwun Tong line train bound for Yau Ma Tei was forced to stop in a tunnel, while another was stopped at Tiu Keng Leng station. The entire Tseung Kwan O line and the shared section of the Kwun Tong line were closed for most of the afternoon, causing travel chaos.
One employee, who asked not to be named, said the 10 workers only recently finished on the line.
"Some track works should have been done better and some mechanical parts should be in better condition," he said. "The 10 workers had just gone back to their own positions two months ago, and [on Monday] the accident happened."
Wong Yuen-wood, chairman of the MTR Staff General Association, said the situation was especially worrying since the redeployment of the 10 staff could have led to a manpower shortage elsewhere and affected safety.
Unionist lawmaker Tang Ka-piu protested against subcontracting outside MTR headquarters in Kowloon Bay yesterday. NeoDemocrat Gary Fan Kwok-wai also criticised the company for its inadequate contingency procedures, which left passengers waiting outside in the rain for buses to other stations. He criticised the government for not encouraging more alternative modes of transport to the railway.
Adi Lau Tin-shing, the MTR's deputy director of operations, said work by contractors met MTR standards. He said the company was still investigating the cause, and inspections on Monday night found that trains and other overhead cables were operating properly. It would review contingency arrangements, he added. He said the section of cable had passed an annual inspection in late October.
The MTR Corporation has three working days to hand in a report to the government. It could be fined up to HK$7.5 million if it is found responsible.