Sai Ying Pun's 15,000 residents could be left without a long-awaited MTR station until early next year if construction problems at one of its exits are not resolved.
The MTR Corporation revealed yesterday that the West Island Line may not meet its planned December opening unless five of the station's six exits are proven safe to run while the sixth is under construction.
This would mark the fifth major MTR project to be met with delays, effectively meaning all five of the commissioned projects have been wracked by setbacks.
The operator said excavation work at exit B3 on Ki Ling Lane had run into problems, rendering the exit unfit to open until next year.
The company has been forced to use a slower and more expensive ground-freezing process to excavate in soft soil conditions. The process involves hardening soil by freezing the water content, making it easier to drill.
MTR general manager Mark Cuzner said the problem was not likely to affect the line's opening. But if construction of the exit affected the safety of adjacent exits, the entire station's opening would be pushed back until early next year unless trains temporarily omit the stop. The holdup could also cause the entire line's opening to be deferred to the first quarter of next year, he added.
"We believe we can complete five entrances needed to meet safety requirements for passenger operation which will enable us to open the station in December," Cuzner said. "But the programme is very tight and there is no buffer time available."
The corporation had presented a "backup plan" to the government, which would allow it to go ahead with the December opening - but with trains skipping Sai Ying Pun.
"If [the station] is not ready for December and the backup plan proves not to be feasible, then full opening of [the line] will take place in the first quarter of next year," Cuzner said. Further details about the opening of the line will be announced in October.
Cuzner stressed that the rail operator was still operating within its allotted budget.
The Transport and Housing Bureau said it had received the MTR's backup plan last week and would closely monitor the progress to ensure the line would be fully operational as scheduled.
Engineer Albert Lai Kwong-tak, of the public policy think tank Professional Commons, said the MTR should have known and disclosed the soil problems early on.
Central and Western district councillor Lo Yee-hang, who represents Sai Ying Pun, said the MTR's explanation was "unacceptable". "The MTR meets [the council] every two months and each time they come, sit here, and say there are no problems. They have no excuse to give us this explanation now," Lo said.
She said the council would make a written complaint to the bureau. "I will have a very hard time explaining this to my constituents," Lo said.
Roughly 90 per cent of the line is complete. The 3km line links Sheung Wan to Sai Ying Pun, the University of Hong Kong and Kennedy Town.