East Rail service may be halted if interim measures fail The KCRC's problems deepened last night after the company announced that an investigation had revealed cracks in major components on its East Rail rolling stock. All trains on the line have been switched to manual operation after an expert panel of engineers concluded that the automatic braking and acceleration system was putting too much stress on components on the underside of carriages. The experts examined 1,062 components on 29 trains and found 188 had cracks. Initial findings blamed substandard welding. Last night a spokesman for the Kowloon-Canton Railway Corporation said there were no plans to take any trains out of service because they had secured all the components, even those not cracked, with nylon belts and metal casings. The setback for the KCRC comes after it received a warning letter from the government strongly condemning it for withholding details of equipment failure for almost three weeks. This followed the revelation that compressors on some trains had been secured with nylon belts. At a hastily arranged press conference last night the company's chairman, Michael Tien Puk-sun, warned it would suspend its East Rail service altogether if the problem of welding cracks persisted. He also announced the appointment of an independent panel to look at who should be held accountable. Mr Tien said the expert group had identified four possible causes for the cracks: The automatic speed control system, in use since 2003, which has greatly increased the pressure on the components underneath the trains when braking; Poor welding work on major components which was difficult to spot; Over-vibration generated by bad welding between rail sections; and Defects in the overhead power system. 'In order not to worsen the situation, we have decided to revert to the pre-2003 system, ie. manually accelerating and decelerating the trains. We have just applied to the Railway Inspectorate to reuse the system and once they approve the move, we will make the switch,' Mr Tien said. This would cause the journey time between Lowu and Tsim Sha Tsui East to increase by 90 seconds, so peak-hour services would be cut from 24 trains per hour to 23. The government gave a cautious welcome to the decision to revert to manual operations as a safety precaution. Mr Tien said the KCR would only switch back to the automated system after strengthening work on supporting apparatus had been done and all components had been re-welded, although he was unsure when this could be completed. 'If we are unable to complete the design of the support apparatus for the transformer by January 26 and still find cracks on the transformer, we will stop using the transformer concerned and hence put those trains out of service, as we have not figured out how to use the apparatus to hold it,' he said.