The real problem at Hong Kong MTR: all control over contractors seems lost
In recent days, we have been flooded with news about the MTR Sha Tin-Central rail link construction scandal. Such an uproar from the general public and news media gives people the impression that the MTR work is unsafe and some sort of failure will occur very soon. What are the underlying reasons leading to such a state of affairs?
So far, the most heated topic is the unauthorised replacement of steel couplers by straight steel bars. The irony is that this alternative design is in fact stronger than the original one, as reckoned by many civil/structural engineers. Had prior approval been sought from the MTR, there should have been no problem. However, it is not that there is no problem. I think the major problem is management, rather than technical issues.
It appears to me that the MTR and the Hong Kong government have no control at all over their contractors and do not have full knowledge of what they have been doing on site. There must be a complete overhaul of this type of management culture in the MTR and government.
Another very heated topic is building settlement near the MTR works. Unfortunately, people tend to confuse building settlement with building failure and the “20/25mm” settlement limit has been regarded by many as a danger line. In fact, this limit was just a rule of thumb adopted in the old days for buildings on shallow foundations. Modern buildings with deeper and stronger foundations certainly can sustain much larger settlement.
Dr Wong Hong-yau, Happy Valley