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Hong Kong MTR

Hong Kong rail operator to launch charm offensive over public safety fears after firm cut corners building platforms for new HK$97.1 billion Sha Tin-Central link

MTR boss Fred Ma will meet board to explain confusion created by changing press releases and failure to properly report issues surrounding new Sha Tin-Central link to the government

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 05 June, 2018, 7:03am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 05 June, 2018, 4:22pm

Hong Kong’s rail chief Frederick Ma Si-hang has acknowledged that the MTR Corporation’s management sent confusing information to the press over the latest corner-cutting scandal that hit the city’s most expensive railway, the Post has learned.

However, according to the MTR Corp’s internal assessment, the irregularity concerning the construction of platforms at Hung Hom station in Kowloon for the HK$97.1 billion (US$12.38 billion) Sha Tin-Central link was unlikely to snowball into a bigger crisis, an insider source said.

“This incident is not as serious as it appeared, as rectification had already been made,” the source said. “But, Fred Ma really thought that there were some confusions over MTR’s dissemination of information to the press resulting in some public misconception [around safety].

“Ma believes the miscommunication was due to the fact that the project was being run by senior engineers who were not good at explaining technical matters to the public.”

To salvage public confidence Ma, as the MTR Corp chairman, will hold an urgent board meeting on Tuesday to explain the whole issue to the members, while the rail operator will hold a series of media workshops this week to address safety concerns over the project.

The move comes as Ma met MTR’s senior management staff on Monday to inquire about the whole corner-cutting saga.

The rail operator last week admitted it had found five occasions where a subcontractor had cut steel bars for the station platforms to make it seem as if the metal structures had been screwed correctly into couplers. The rail operator did not name anyone involved, and claimed the fault had been rectified while completing the track slab construction in August 2016.

However, the MTR Corp was accused of deceiving the public by revising the time of discovery for the first irregularity to August 2015 from the December 2015 date originally stated in a press release.

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The errors took place inside one of two underground levels being built beneath Hung Hom station to house four platforms for the new rail line. Once finished the link will connect to existing rail lines to form a larger Tuen Mun to Ma On Shan rail corridor, to be known as the Tuen Ma Line.

Leighton Contractors (Asia) was the main contractor for building the platforms. Under a HK$5.2 billion (US$662.7 million) contract signed 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 the concrete job to China Technology Corp, but it was another subcontractor hired by Leighton that carried out the faulty work.

The source said the scandal arose from infighting between Leighton and China Technology Corp, which even reported their dispute to Secretary for Transport and Housing Frank Chan Fan last September.

Chan requested the firm report the matter to the Highways Department instead.

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“However a few months later when China Technology Corp wrote to the department, it said it had resolved its dispute with Leighton,” the source said.

“Actually the MTR senior staff thought the whole saga was over. They were surprised to see that this incident two years ago was suddenly brought up to the attention of the media.”

China Technology could not be reached for comment.

As the rail operator, MTR Corp was ordered last week to submit a report within one week to explain the safety concerns. It was also ordered to arrange for an independent expert to conduct load testing at the Hung Hom station platforms.

The source said rail operator was prepared to adopt an above-average standard for load testing to restore public confidence over the safety of the platforms concerned.