Hong Kong MTR

Hong Kong’s new rail chief Frederick Ma has his work cut out to put MTR back on track

The past year saw a number of controversies – from stray dogs to project delays – that have dented the image of city’s rail operator

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 06 January, 2016, 3:50am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 06 January, 2016, 3:50am

A new year brings with it hopes of change and Frederick Ma Si-hang is apparently keen to demonstrate that with his new leadership at the embattled Mass Transit Railway Corporation.

Shortly after the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Day, the new chairman led a media tour to a control centre where he saw for himself how the railway operates. Taking a ride on a train and chatting with frontline staff, the media-savvy Ma seems to have made a good start.

READ MORE: New MTR chief vows to complete work on three rail lines that missed deadlines

The rail giant went through an extraordinarily eventful year, from construction delays and frequent breakdowns to questionable treatment of intruding stray dogs and passengers with large musical instruments. Compared to the previous management style of some top MTR executives, Ma’s is a refreshing change. That said, some issues still weigh heavily on his shoulders. The delay and cost overrun of the high-speed rail project has dented public confidence in the company.

The government and MTR are facing an uphill battle in securing an extra HK$19.6 billion in funding to complete the project. The outrage over the handling of musical instruments and a stray dog knocked over by a train also showed that the MTR was not responsive enough in the age of social media.

It will take more than public relations to rise to the challenge. The MTR is one of the city’s biggest bureaucracies. Earlier, an inquiry found inadequacies in reporting and accountability, leading to delays in alerting the board to problems with the high-speed rail project. The immediate challenge for the MTR is to work with the government in securing the extra funding needed to complete the rail line.

READ MORE: New Hong Kong MTR chief faces funding challenges for city’s long-delayed high-speed railway link

Ma has been personally lobbying for support from lawmakers. The former minister enjoyed relatively good working relations with the city’s political parties when he oversaw financial services and commerce in the government. But whether that will help him smooth the way forward remains to be seen. Ma is well aware of the challenges ahead. It is to be hoped that he can turn the page and put the MTR back on track.