MTR admits its train service has been bad

East Rail Line is main culprit as delays dog first half of year, but rail boss suggests it's just bad luck, as he sets about tackling those other delays

PUBLISHED : Friday, 04 July, 2014, 4:03am
UPDATED : Friday, 04 July, 2014, 5:03am

Train service performance was "very bad" in the first half of the year, the MTR conceded yesterday, with six out of the seven serious delays on its entire network occurring along the East Rail Line, which runs from Hung Hom to the border.

That includes Monday's incident, when a burst water main disrupted services for almost two hours - just one day after the MTR increased fares by an average of 3.6 per cent, despite recording a net profit of HK$13 billion for the last financial year.

The railway operator insisted the problems could not be blamed on poor maintenance or on age - it is the oldest line in the system - arguing that the incidents were largely unrelated.

MTR chief executive Jay Walder gave a complete rundown of the company's delays from January 1 to June 30 at a media gathering yesterday.

There were 78 delays lasting more than eight minutes on the network, not counting the light rail network in the New Territories. Seven of the delays lasted more than 30 minutes, of which six were on the East Rail Line - and two of these delays were related to a defective batch of electrical insulators used in the overhead power cables.

Walder, an American, said the company was spending HK$1 billion on maintenance on the East Rail Line alone and the fact that the line dated back to 1910 was not a factor in the incidents.

Asked if he was putting a disproportionate amount of delays on the East Rail Line down to bad luck, Walder responded: "I'm not sure if I want to put everything down to luck, but if you look at the East Rail Line in 2012 there was only one delay greater than 31 minutes. If you look at the East Rail Line in 2013, it had zero delays."

He said the incidents were "completely independent", apart from the two related to a faulty batch of insulators. He noted that the MTR had replaced the entire batch and there had been no similar incidents since.

Dr Jacob Kam Chak-pui, MTR operations director, said the company had learned from the experience and would in future abide by stricter purchasing and testing processes. He said any problem with overhead cables would always cause a serious delay as these took hours to repair.

The network's performance had been "very bad in the first half of the year", Kam added.

Walder is to leave his job after his contract ends next year, and he said his most important task before his departure was to re-establish the MTR's credibility and push forward its five major construction projects, all of which have been delayed. They are the South Island Line, the Kwun Tong Line extension, the high-speed cross-border railway, the Sha Tin-Central link and the West Island Line.

The East Rail Line's problems began in February, when the faulty insulators caused long delays on the line twice in 10 days.

In April, the line came to a halt for 36 minutes after the control centre's tracking system stopped working. The next day, services stopped for seven minutes.

The MTR is fined for disruptions over 30 minutes. That has cost it HK$40.5 million over the past two years.