Call to boost safety measures, MTR staff training and Hong Kong public awareness
Lawmakers and experts raise questions in the aftermath of recent firebomb incident
Passenger safety was called into question, following Friday night’s peak hour firebomb attack which left at least 19 people injured, some critically.
Lawmakers and experts called for the beefing up of safety measures on trains, enhanced staff training and increased public awareness to better cope with similar situations and emergencies in the future.
The call came as an investigation panel, formed by MTR, pledged to review how the blaze – which was classified as a “major incident” – was handled, and whether communication with passengers and the public was effective. An initial report is expected within a month.
Michael Tien Puk-sun, chairman of the Legislative Council’s railway subcommittee, criticised MTR staff on a radio show Saturday, saying they were slow to respond during the incident.
“Staff should already have fire extinguishers ready before the train approached the platform,” Tien said, adding that the lag was based on the lack of surveillance systems inside train carriages.
While dangerous goods such as pressurised gas cylinders or petroleum are forbidden on the MTR and inside stations, no security checks are in place to ensure passengers do not carry the items.
Hung Wing-tat, an associate professor in the department of civil and structural engineering at Polytechnic University, said security checks at station entrances could be considered.
“It would be inconvenient ... How much of a delay would that be? Well, everything has a cost,” he admitted.
Lawmaker James To Kun-sun however described such measures as “impossible”, saying that they would affect the city’s efficiency.
“Searching through the bags of passengers is not a feasible way forward. There is no way people would tolerate this kind of delay,” To said.
Transport minister Anthony Cheung Bing-leung also said that with more than five million passenger journeys on the MTR daily, balancing what was needed or could be done would be the key when enforcing security checks.
“As there are many passengers travelling on the MTR every day, it is not that easy to set up security checks,” he said after visiting Tsim Sha Tsui station to meet frontline staff and be briefed on details of the case.
Cheung also pointed out that MTR staff members generally have strong safety awareness as around 12 to 15 drills were held annually with other government departments.
Each train, which has eight carriages, is equipped with 18 fire extinguishers, including those in the driver’s cabins at both ends.
Hung from Polytechnic University suggested that better designs of stations and train carriages should be considered to allow quicker evacuation during emergencies.
He said the placement and design of exit signs should be more distinct and staff fire drills could be organised more frequently, adding: “Maybe the MTR can better educate the public on such matters.”
He said MTR might also have to review improvements in facilitating evacuations, and easier methods in which passengers could break carriages windows if required.
Hung noted that public education on how to respond to emergencies in crowded and enclosed spaces could also be stepped up.
MTR currently has downloadable information on its website on train safety, including where to identify emergency call buttons, door releases and fire extinguishers, as well as evacuation procedures.