Hong Kong express rail will not run until proven safe after derailment
Train depot staff find wheels on the last carriage of a train ‘shifted out of position’
Hong Kong officials will not allow cross-border high-speed train services to go ahead until experts and the MTR Corporation could prove the operation “was safe” in the wake of a derailment on Tuesday as testing of trains was suspended.
An investigation into the incident on Tuesday night of how some wheels on an express train undergoing testing had “shifted out of position” was ongoing. The incident was a major setback for the HK$84.4 billion (US$10.7 billion) infrastructure project.
Train depot staff found four wheels on the last carriage of the made-in-China train had “shifted out of position” during an inspection at 9.15pm on Tuesday. Trial runs started on April 1.
The Transport and Housing Bureau and the Electrical and Mechanical Services Department (EMSD) ordered the under-fire MTR Corp to produce an investigation report “as soon as possible” to determine the cause of the incident and offer measures to correct and stop the incident from happening again.
Testing along the new high speed tracks was suspended in response to the derailment “to ensure safety first”, Hong Kong’s railway operator said, as the government expressed displeasure with the incident.
“The department is very concerned about this incident,” an EMSD spokesman said.
Experts from the train manufacturer Qingdao Sifang were sent to Hong Kong on Wednesday to help with the probe.
An initial examination of the derailment was isolated to the maintenance depot, the MTR Corp maintained, as it tried to reassure officials and the public there was no widespread defect across the main express rail line.
The focus was on a supporting structure, the I-beam, under a curved section of track leading into the depot which was “slightly deformed”, the MTR’s head of operations Francis Li Shing-kee said.
“When the safety of the whole system can be assured, the train trial runs will resume immediately.
“We found that an I-beam supporting one of the maintenance tracks was slightly deformed,” he explained. “The beam is at a curved section of the tracks. When the train ran through the section, we suspect that there was a lateral force that was brought to the tracks and to the support area.”
A spokeswoman added the railway operator had no timetable for when testing would restart.
While the company would have to ensure it could iron out teething problems and more serious issues in time for the targeted September opening, the government said it would “verify whether the MTR has properly completed all tests related to railway safety” and conduct its own rail safety tests before allowing the express rail link to open for passenger service.
“Trains will not be approved until the operation is safe,” an EMSD spokesman reiterated.
The Transport and Housing Bureau said safety was the “top priority in any railway operations”.
The rail link has been the subject of highly charged debate over a controversial immigration checkpoint to be based in downtown Hong Kong but run jointly by local and mainland Chinese officers. Opponents say the arrangement violates the city’s mini-constitution by allowing authorities at the terminal to enforce mainland laws on Hong Kong soil.