Another scandal arrives on new MTR line

Now fears have been raised about the safety of a wall at To Kwa Wan station on the Sha Tin-Central link, and this problem may be the most serious yet

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 16 June, 2018, 5:56am
UPDATED : Saturday, 16 June, 2018, 5:56am

It may be the most expensive project of its kind ever undertaken by the MTR, but I am not sure I will feel safe riding on the new Sha Tin-Central link when it opens. It has been scandal after scandal, and cost overruns and delays, for the HK$97.1 billion railway line.

Under pressure from all sides, including friendly lawmakers from the pro-establishment bloc, the government has been forced to authorise an independent probe into negligent work carried out at Hung Hom station.

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On transit platforms at the station, steel bars were deliberately cut to make them look like they had been screwed correctly into couplers.

MTR management, contractors and their sub-contractors knew about the screw-up as early as 2015, but the story only broke recently.

The commission, to be headed by former Court of Final Appeal judge Michael Hartmann, will have the power to summon witnesses and request documents.

All well and good, except another scandal has surfaced at the same rail project. It concerns a 30-metre-long wall next to a staircase at the platform of To Kwa Wan station. Workers removed reinforcement bars and cement from the wall, raising serious questions about its safety.

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In a rare criticism, the Highways Department has slammed the MTR for failing to explain “the extent of the [problem], the cause of the incident, the supervision of works and the impact on the structure”.

Such blunt language raises questions about how serious the latest revelation is. Naturally, the next question is, can we rely on the MTR to provide proper answers? The mandate of the Hartmann commission is restricted to the incident at the Hung Hom platform, so it couldn’t expand the scope of its inquiry even if it was warranted.

It seems obvious that it was deliberately set up that way by Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor and her lieutenants.

No bureaucrats would want an independent probe looking freely into all the dark corners. The worst that the new commission could unearth would be confined to Hung Hom station.

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But as pressure is likely to build in the coming days and weeks over the revelation at To Kwan Wan, the problem may turn out to be as serious – or even more so – than the one in Hung Hom.

Is Lam to set up another commission? Or would it have been wiser to give Hartmann a more open mandate?