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  • Dec 22, 2014
  • Updated: 6:31pm
NewsHong Kong

MTR's 'independent' panel to probe cross-border rail delay branded a 'silly' idea

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 29 April, 2014, 11:53pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 30 April, 2014, 6:17pm

The MTR board has set up an "independent" committee of non-executive directors to review management of the delayed cross-border express railway and find out why it was not briefed earlier on the problems.

This was announced yesterday as Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said officials would examine internal documents so they could brief lawmakers next month.

MTR chairman Dr Raymond Chien Kuo-fung said: "Board members feel there is a need to conduct a more detailed assessment of the causes of the delay, and why the impacts on the opening date and budget had not been clearly highlighted to the board."

But the announcement did not placate legislators, who have slammed the corporation for not disclosing the delay earlier.

Wu Chi-wai, of the Democratic Party, said the committee was independent in name only and its establishment was "silly".

"The board is at fault as well [for not knowing] about the delay earlier," he said, urging the government to launch its own probe.

Michael Tien Puk-sun - who has suggested the MTR might have lied to lawmakers about the project's progress - stuck to his stance despite the railway saying it was a misunderstanding.

Chaired by former commerce chief Professor Frederick Ma Si-hang, the five-man review committee also involves Jockey Club chairman Brian Stevenson, senior adviser of Citigroup Asia Pacific Alasdair Morrison, head of the Centre for Logistics and Transport Dr Dorothy Chan Yuen Tak-fai and architect Edward Ho Sing-tin.

The developments came a day after it was announced that MTR projects director Chew Tai-chong would leave in October, more than a year before his contract ends. That followed the disclosure that opening of the link would be delayed to 2017.

MTR deputy general manager Maggie So Man-kit apologised for any "misunderstanding" caused by the "unclear choice of words" in briefing lawmakers in November but said there was no intention to mislead them.

Explosives 'may solve railway's problems'

Explosives could blast through complex rock formations at West Kowloon up to three times as quickly as drilling, structural engineers say - but the government may not be so keen.

The MTR Corporation yesterday said it was studying the feasibility of blasting as it looked to overcome unexpectedly tough geological conditions at the terminus of the HK$67 billion high-speed line to Guangzhou.

"The government has always been very careful when it comes to blasting operations in urban areas," said Dr Hung Wing-tat, an expert in civil and structural engineering at Polytechnic University. The concern is that nearby buildings and roads could be damaged. One of the West Kowloon site's closest neighbours is the city's tallest building, the 484-metre International Commerce Centre. It is also close to rail and road tunnels, busy streets and wealthy residential areas.

But Hung said that, based on the MTR's description of the problem when it announced a two-year delay to the railway a fortnight ago, blasting may be a viable option. The MTR says the terminus site sits atop boulders rather than a single stretch of rock so, according to Hung, a blast wave would not be transmitted to nearby structures. "But it's hard to say how much faster blasting will be as it depends on the quantity of explosives [the MTR] is allowed to use per day," he said.

Hung believes blasting will cost at least twice as much as drilling, as explosives will have to be bought and experts hired, while construction workers would have to clear up.

But Dr Greg Wong Chak-yan, a former president of the Institution of Engineers, believes trying to drill through boulders would be more expensive. He argues that, with a precise calculation of the amount of force the built structures at the terminus could withstand, blasting would not pose a problem for them.

Wong says that the final cost will inevitably be higher than it would have been had the MTR Corp identified the complicated geological conditions at West Kowloon sooner. As well as working out how to get through the rock itself, the rail operator will also have to compensate contractors for the delays.

Identifying the problem sooner may also have led to a milder reaction from the public, Wong said. The announcement that the railway's completion would be delayed from next year to 2017 prompted anger from the public and lawmakers, who believe the company may not have provided the full picture on its progress.

Blasting was previously touted by engineers as a solution to another problem delaying the railway: damage to a tunnel-boring machine in recent heavy rain.

MTR said it had yet to apply for permission to blast and would study all possible solutions for the site with the government.

People living nearby would be consulted before blasting took place, the MTR's deputy general manager Maggie So Man-kit said.



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This article is now closed to comments

"But Hung said that, based on the MTR's description of the problem when it announced a two-year delay to the railway a fortnight ago, blasting may be a viable option."
Given that the entire issue seems to be based on the not-believable factor of MTR Corp., why would anyone advocate such a perilous tactic based on this same entity?
Also, given the issues that are discussed in this article, why was the single reference to one person's description of the committee as 'silly' made the sole focus of the headline, thereby making the entire article seem to be about something of less importance, a committee, rather than such issues as using explosives in the heart of Kowloon?
The writer states "Any blast will be felt by all who lives in Elements and surrounding buildings, as solid rock transmits vibration very very well"
Nonsense - MTR used precision small charge blasting methods recently in Ap Lei Chau, for the Lie Dong station and approach tunnels..
While there was some fun noise, - there was not the slightest building shake whatsoever, even within 100 metres of the blast face. This went on every day at roughly 3pm for a couple of months - banging frying pans for a couple of minutes, followed by rapid series of small blasts, then an all clear signal.
A year earlier, MTR successfully used similar precision blasting techniques for much of the tunnel works between Sheung Wan and Kennedy Town.
How About
Why should Carrie Lam answer Legco on MTR's behalf? Which department of the HKSAR is the gatekeeper of the taxpayer's 66% shareholding of MTR, and which department is the oversight body to that?
The announcement yesterday of its Project Director's retirement was a sleight of hand- that it was said by 'consultants that he was to blame' for the delay but his retirement in October won't be an instant head-rolling, nor is it punitive in anyway. For all we don't know perhaps he gets paid more gratuity to take the flak in retiring? Psychologically that announcement appears as though MTR acted decisively to boot their PD but was that the truth? That one man in MTR was alone responsible and blameworthy for a $67B contract and his head will only roll in 5 months' time! If this is an acceptable finale I'd call it a platinum handshake!
Michael Tien's other bomb showed in fact the MTR's progress reporting system was faulty so out came a deputy GM to ask for more time to check? So if you can't mop this one up, Carrie Lam will swoop in with an inquiry?
This keiretsu is way overdue for an overhaul.
simply a firefighting act to divert public attention from knowing the truth behind the delay and overbudget. it is already a structural problem for hk government to overspend substantially in those big projects and a responsible government should look deep to see how to avoid similar problems in the future rather than showing us a silly play.
Blasting was considered unacceptable, by Gov., and OUGHT to be so too. The XLR site is on solid rock which extends, and directly connect to, foundations of nearby buildings - namely Elements. Any blast will be felt by all who lives in Elements and surrounding buildings, as solid rock transmits vibration very very well.
From my observations of drilling and other site workings presently done, I believe the main contractor, had adopted a silly slow method. Solid rock does not shift sideways, or downward, thus a "space" needs to be created in order to have rock remove quickly and efficiently. For example, have anyone seen a rock quarry being done from the TOP??? Its nearly always from the side. Thus, as far as I can see, MTR 's consultants had approved a "silly" expensive method to do this work. And a logical guess is that the main contractor had found a way to be paid for doing the work slowly and expensively - such as "Cost-Plus" variations???
Ha ha ha; yet again more value for taxpayers


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