MTR Corp given one week to submit report on Sha Tin-Central link safety issues
Hong Kong government tells rail operator that it must also have an expert conduct load tests on affected portion of track
The government has ordered rail operator MTR Corporation to submit a report within one week to explain safety concerns over Hong Kong’s most expensive railway after a subcontractor was found to have cut corners on a key part of the project.
The rail giant was also requested on Thursday to promptly arrange for an independent expert to conduct load testing at the Hung Hom station platforms for the Sha Tin-Central link and submit the report to the Highways Department.
The move came as project overseer MTR Corp, in response to media reports, admitted on Wednesday that a subcontractor had produced substandard work for the platform in September 2015, with staff cutting steel bars to make it seem as if they had been screwed correctly into couplers. The rail operator claimed 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.
Leighton Contractors (Asia) was the main contractor for building the platforms. Under a HK$5.2 billion (US$662.7 million) contract in March 2013, Leighton is responsible for the construction of Hung Hom Station and stabling sidings for the Sha Tin-Central link project.
The firm subcontracted part of the job to China Technology Corp, but an MTR Corp spokeswoman said it was another subcontractor hired by Leighton that carried out the substandard work.
However, the spokeswoman refused to disclose the subcontractor’s name or whether the railway operator would report the matter to police for further investigation.
The rail link has been hit by overruns and delays, and has exceeded its budget by HK$16.5 billion, with a total price tag of HK$97.1 billion, including preparatory work costs.
The government, which owns the rail project and holds a 75 per cent stake in MTR Corp, had been kept in the dark about the substandard work.
In a statement released on Thursday evening, it said both the Transport and Housing Bureau and Highways Department were highly concerned about the incident and the safety concerns it raised.
“Today, director of highways Daniel Chung Kum-wah met with the senior management of MTR Corp and he repeatedly expressed concerns over this issue,” it said. “He requested that the MTR submit a report within one week.”
“To dismiss public concerns over the safety of the relevant concrete building, the director of highways also requested MTR to arrange as soon as possible an independent expert to conduct load testing and to submit a loading report to the Highways Department, to ensure that the relevant building could withstand the designed load,” it added.
However, civil and structural engineer Simon So and Democratic Party lawmaker Lam Cheuk-ting both said the corner-cutting work by the subcontractor amounted to an act of fraud.
“This is in fact cheating or an act of fraud. MTR can report this to police or graftbusters for investigation,” So said. “If MTR assists in the cover-up of the subcontractor’s fraudulent act, we as the public won’t have any way to act as a gatekeeper or a government watchdog. MTR should actively disclose any irregularities to the public. So far I don’t even know if the botched part of the project has been properly rectified.”
Lam agreed, saying the railway operator should reveal the name of the subcontractor.
“I suspect this is conspiracy to defraud and MTR should report it to police,” the lawmaker said. “It also needs to disclose the subcontractor’s name to restore public confidence.”
In a statement issued on Thursday night, the railway operator said its chairman, Frederick Ma Si-hang, had instructed management to follow up on the issue immediately, vowing the findings of the independent consultant would be made public.
“MTR Corp is committed to upholding the highest quality standards in its railway projects and will always strive to maintain a high degree of transparency in information dissemination to the community,” Ma said. “It is unfortunate if my recent remarks may have created a wrong impression.”
The rail chief ignited controversy when he remarked that “if we tell you it’s OK then it is”. He insisted it would be “meaningless” to give more information about MTR’s rail projects, as they were not technicians, and that some material was internal and could not be disclosed to the public.