Hong Kong MTR

Hong Kong’s Sha Tin-Central rail link hit by corner-cutting contractor’s shoddy work on platforms, MTR Corporation confirms

Engineer calls on government to make sure platforms beneath Hung Hom station restored to safety

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 31 May, 2018, 7:16am
UPDATED : Thursday, 31 May, 2018, 11:48pm

A company building a large chunk of Hong Kong’s priciest railway has cut corners on a key part of the project, it has been confirmed.

An engineer on Wednesday called on the government to make sure the platforms of the Sha Tin-Central link have been restored to safety.

Leighton Contractors (Asia) was responsible for building the platforms, having been contracted in March 2013 to build them and other facilities on the link. Its part of the HK$87.3 billion (US$11 billion) project was worth HK$5.2 billion. It subcontracted part of the job to China Technology Corp.

The MTR Corporation, which oversees the entire project, said on Wednesday – without naming names – that a contractor had produced substandard work as it cut steel bars to make it seem like they were screwed correctly into couplers. The fault was eventually rectified.

The error happened on the floor of one of two new underground levels being built beneath Hung Hom station to house four platforms on the under-construction Tuen Mun to Ma On Shan rail corridor, known as the Tuen Ma Line, as part of the larger link.

The government, which owns the rail project and has a 75 per cent stake in MTR Corp, had been kept in the dark about it.

Speaking at the work site, MTR Corp representatives confirmed that a contractor had erred.

“We immediately told the contractor to rectify it before they poured the cement [to form a slab],” Jason Wong Chi-ching, general manager of the link project, said.

The slab, three metres thick, forms the floor of the platform. Wong said couplers on the slab were replaced to ensure the steel bars were screwed to the correct depth.

He said it was a “day-to-day workmanship issue” that did not warrant reporting to the government.

“This is normal procedure on-site that happens every day, so we don’t report this sort of non-conformance every day to the government,” he said.

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The company’s projects director Philco Wong Nai-keung said the issue had not bumped up construction costs and would not delay the opening of the Tuen Ma Line, scheduled for mid-2019. He said the irregularities were found during inspections in December 2015.

Following the rectification, he said, the slab’s structural safety was up to standard, but MTR Corp workers would continue to inspect it for irregularities.

He said the corporation had been running tests on Tuen Ma Line platforms since April, but did not say if the firm would take further action against the contractors.

The corporation representatives did not explain the reasons for the corner-cutting.

Hong Kong only has two consultancy firms for railway matters, and they have close relationships with MTR Corp
Lam Cheuk-ting, legislator

Leighton refused to answer questions on Wednesday and China Technology could not be reached for comment.

Speaking at the Legislative Council, Secretary for Transport and Housing Frank Chan Fan refused to say when the government learned of the incident.

“There is always a hierarchy of management and supervision. Therefore it is only when something goes wrong that this would be escalated to my level,” Chan said.

As the mistakes had been rectified on-site, Chan said “the problem has been solved”, adding that MTR Corp had handled the incident responsibly.

Roundtable legislator Michael Tien Puk-sun, who chairs Legco’s railway panel, said lawmakers would press MTR Corp for more details at a meeting on Friday. Tien questioned if the railway giant had holes in its quality control measures.

He also noted that a tunnel connected to Hung Hom station had earlier been found to have issues in “concrete connection joints”. Leighton was also responsible for the construction of the tunnel and the earlier fault.

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Democratic Party lawmaker Lam Cheuk-ting, deputy chairman of Legco’s transport panel, said MTR Corp should employ overseas experts to inspect the work site, to ensure it is up to safety standards.

“Hong Kong only has two consultancy firms for railway matters, and they have close relationships with MTR Corp,” he said.

Engineer Albert Lai Kwong-tak urged MTR Corp to make public whether the original loading capacity was restored, which would directly affect safety on the platforms.

“The government should appoint independent parties to investigate the matter,” Lai said.

A spokesman for the Highways Department said officials last inspected the site this month and had found no serious cracks or water seepage in the concrete.

"Under normal circumstances, such as rectifications that do not affect work progress, cost and safety, it is not necessary for the MTR Corp to report to the [department]," he said, adding that the government would do a final inspection before the project is handed over after completion.

Additional reporting by Denise Tsang