Public safety the key as mishaps hit new Hong Kong transport projects
Both the cross-border high-speed railway and Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge, already victims of serious cost overruns and delays, have raised operational concerns
Hong Kong transport will soon enter a new chapter with the commissioning of two key cross-border infrastructure works – a link to the national high-speed rail network and a bridge across the Pearl River Delta. Technically and financially challenging as they are, the two mega projects are pivotal to our long-term integration with the mainland.
But before we maximise their potential, we must ensure they are safe to use. Worryingly, some safety issues are still lingering as the projects near their final stages of completion.
The Mass Transit Railway Corporation has ordered an investigation after four wheels on the last carriage of a train shifted out of position following trial runs. The problem, discovered during an inspection, was immediately reported to both the government and the public.
Such transparency and accountability are commendable. The government has also set the right tone with a pledge not to launch the rail service until it is satisfied with passenger safety.
Questions over the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge were also raised. Aerial photos taken by a local newspaper showed that blocks used to reinforce the base of an artificial island on one side were noticeably less compact than those elsewhere, raising concerns over whether they had collapsed and been washed away.
The authority in charge of the project dismissed the report, saying the blocks were designed to be like that to go with the underwater tunnel section.
The explanation drew mixed reactions from experts, with some questioning whether the design provided sufficient support to the island. In what appeared to be a vote of confidence in the project, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said she hoped outsiders would not challenge structural safety based on what was shown in the photos.
But transport minister Frank Chan Fan apparently took a different stance, saying the government had expressed great concern over the matter and was liaising with the bridge authority.
It was not until earlier this week that Hong Kong officials inspected the site and concluded that the island was structurally safe. Belated as it is, the clarification helps restore public confidence in the project. But the authorities need to improve liaison in light of the controversy.
The two projects would have been in operation by now had they not been held up by a series of mishaps. Both have suffered serious cost overruns and delays. While the setbacks are not unusual for works of such scale, they inevitably affect public perception and confidence. There will be no room for errors when the railway and the bridge are put to use. Officials must work harder to assure the public that safety will not be compromised.