Hong Kong MTR

Inquiry into MTR project should widen if more problems found

Hong Kong’s leader is right to launch an independent investigation into construction of the Hung Hom interchange station. But Justice Michael Hartmann, who is leading the probe, must be free to examine any irregularities that arise on the new rail line

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 17 June, 2018, 2:55am
UPDATED : Sunday, 17 June, 2018, 2:55am

Ever since faulty construction works have been found with a platform at an interchange station of the Sha Tin-Central rail link, the need for an independent investigation could not be ruled out.

As more scandals with the MTR Corporation continue to unfold, the latest involving another station with a massive wall built not according to design, the government has no choice but to go ahead with a top-level inquiry.

This is not just a necessary step to enhance the safety of the city’s most expensive rail project. More importantly, the investigation has to address the fundamental question of how works projects should be supervised.

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The commission of inquiry appointed by Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor is a right response to the growing concerns over the HK$97.1 billion rail line.

She conceded that the government was still unclear about the scale of the problem and its safety implications. The report submitted to the government by the MTR Corp on Friday did not alter the need for a full inquiry.

The company was already criticised for delays and cost-overruns of the cross-border high-speed rail in a separate investigation ordered by the government four years ago.

The level of the inquiry into the problems at the Hung Hom station is even higher this time, with the commission empowered to summon witnesses. Statutory probes are usually initiated in the wake of major controversies, such as the chaos surrounding the opening of the new airport in 1998; the Lamma ferry collision tragedy in 2012; and lead-tainted water at public housing estates in 2015. The decision to investigate irregularities in the rail link underlines the severity of the matter.

It is good to learn that the inquiry, led by Justice Michael Hartmann, will also look into the monitoring mechanisms of the MTR Corp and the government.

This is not the first time the former judge of the Court of Final Appeal has delved into the woes of the city’s railways.

He spearheaded the investigation into the construction delays of the high-speed rail in 2014, which led to the Highways Department and the MTR Corp being heavily criticised for failing in their roles.

That rebuke raises questions on whether lessons have been learned.

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The problems with the high-speed rail project and the Sha Tin-Central one are of course different, but the roles of the government and the rail operator are the same. Lam said the new inquiry would target the Hung Hom station, reasoning the investigation would lose focus if it were to take on whatever problems found along the line.

Be that as it may, there is no reason the scope cannot be broadened if more serious irregularities are unearthed. Hopefully, the inquiry can get to the root of the problem and help prevent recurrence.