Engineer offers explosive solution to railway woes

Raymond Chan says MTR Corporation could blast tunnels after boring machine breaks

PUBLISHED : Monday, 21 April, 2014, 4:10am
UPDATED : Monday, 21 April, 2014, 7:25am

Explosives could be used to excavate tunnels for the high-speed rail link to Guangzhou if a boring machine cannot be repaired soon, a leading engineer says.

But Institution of Engineers president Raymond Chan Kin-sek also questioned why the MTR Corporation had not protected the machine from water damage in last month's storms. Damage to the machine was cited as a key factor when a two-year delay to the controversial HK$67 billion project high-speed rail project was announced last week.

"Why was [the boring machine] not properly protected from the rain? It is something that should be looked into … If it cannot be repaired, other methods such as the use of explosives can be considered," said Chan, a former head of the government's Geotechnical Engineering Office.

But the engineer told RTHK's City Forum that blasting would be time-consuming in itself.

"The components [to repair] the machine need to be sent to Hong Kong as soon as possible. As far as I know, components for this big machine cannot be found in Hong Kong," he said. "I heard the electric motors were damaged because sand and mud got inside. If they need to be replaced it will take quite a long time."

The MTR Corporation and the government pushed the finishing date for the line back to 2016 from next year and said services would not start until 2017. The announcement has caused controversy, not least because it was presented as a "surprise" and the result of "unforeseen difficulties", despite the fact reports of a likely delay emerged as long ago as May last year. Besides the damage to the machines, tougher-than-expected geological conditions at the West Kowloon terminus were also cited.

Gary Fan Kwok-wai, deputy chairman of the Legislative Council's transport panel, asked why the difficulties had cropped up, given that lawmakers gave the MTR HK$2.8 billion in 2008 for a survey that was supposed to identify project challenges.

Engineer Albert Lai Kwong-tak, chairman of the think tank Professional Commons, said a rainstorm in May last year was much more serious than the one last month. "There are nine such machines in Hong Kong at present. How come only the one in the high-speed rail project was damaged? And the rainstorm was much more severe last year. Why wasn't the machine damaged at that time?" Lai said.