Safety paramount in the many questions over new rail link

  • The construction scandal at the HK$97.1 billion Sha Tin-Central rail link continues to deepen and the public will not be confident in using the new line until all the issues are resolved
PUBLISHED : Saturday, 02 February, 2019, 10:44pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 03 February, 2019, 9:49am

The construction scandal at the HK$97.1 billion (US$12.4 billion) Sha Tin-Central rail link is deepening, with officials revealing that a trove of documents certifying work standards have gone missing. Separately, the accuracy of methods used to ascertain the structural safety of irregularities found at a station earlier was also thrown into doubt. The way forward for the city’s most expensive rail project is anything but clear.

With so many records nowhere to be found, the MTR Corporation and Leighton Contractors (Asia) have much to explain. Regrettably, the former still has yet to give a satisfactory explanation, while the latter has shunned media enquiries all along. The contractor has been accused of a series of shoddy work, including cutting short reinforcement steel bars at the platforms of Hung Hom station and changing supporting diaphragm walls at another site without authorisation. The irregularities are under investigation by a government-appointed inquiry.

The missing records cover the construction of two approach tunnels and the connecting side tracks at Hung Hom station. The MTR was said to have alerted the government to the mishap in the middle of last year. Meanwhile, the issue was kept under wraps. The disclosure only came on Wednesday as the inquiry was wrapping up months of public hearings.

What does missing document scandal mean for Sha Tin-Central rail link?

Appropriately, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor has asked the inquiry to be extended to include the latest irregularities. The government also plans to examine other stations in phases to see whether there are other construction defects. It remains unclear when the rail link can be commissioned for use.

Questions have been raised as to whether the records, known as RICS forms, were deliberately destroyed. Signed and kept by the contractor and the MTR, the papers are meant to ensure that the works are completed according to standards and designs. Over the past few days, the public was given confusing accounts over the missing forms. The authorities must investigate further and determine responsibility.

Officials are adamant there is no evidence of safety having been compromised. But with so many records missing, the scale of the problem – let alone structural safety – remains unknown at this stage. Adding to the woes are the contradictory investigation findings by the MTR and police over the shortened steel bars. Using ultra-sound scanning, the MTR found that some of them were shorter than required. However, the samples taken by police for physical measurement showed no signs of defects.

The public will not feel confidence in using the line until all these queries have been addressed. The authorities must take all necessary steps to ensure the line is absolutely safe to use.