Unauthorised wall work on Hong Kong’s HK$97.1 billion Sha Tin-Central link saw reinforcement bars removed, MTR admits
Contractor accused of ignoring design drawings in two more instances, but railway operator insists irregularities posed no safety risk
Hong Kong’s troubled railway operator on Tuesday disclosed two more cases of problematic construction along the multibillion-dollar Sha Tin-Central link, just days after a frontline worker leaked details of similar “unauthorised deviations” from design drawings for a station platform wall.
Facing further accusations that it had been lax in recording and reporting substandard work, the MTR Corporation insisted it had only learned about the latest problems on Friday. It vowed to take action against staff responsible and the contractor in charge.
The company revealed in a report submitted to the government that a joint venture between contractors Hsin Chong Group Holdings and Samsung C&T had divulged two more cases of unauthorised modifications to a wall being built at To Kwa Wan station. The MTR Corp insisted the irregularities, spanning an area of 60 square metres (645 sq ft), posed no safety risk.
A similar problem on a different section of the wall was originally exposed by a lawmaker who said a frontline construction worker told her remedial work to shave off concrete to correct bulging had been carried out in April, and the removal of reinforcing bars was unauthorised.
The allegations led to the Highways Department ordering the railway giant to formally explain the errors, which are among a number to have plagued construction of the HK$97.1 billion (US$12.4 billion) line – the most expensive railway project in the city’s history.
The MTR Corp said it carried out an investigation by interviewing nine of its staff. But the contractor – awarded the HK$4.57 billion construction job in July 2012 – refused access to its workers for the inquiry.
The rail operator’s representatives did not spell out what actions would be taken against the contractor or its staff.
“We will take proper record and consider for reference in future tenders,” project director Philco Wong Nai-keung said.
The MTR Corp refused to say if staff could be fired over what happened at To Kwa Wan, stating instead that disciplinary action would “depend on the situation”.
Asked if the management should take responsibility for the scandals, CEO Lincoln Leong said: “We are an organisation that respects and expects responsibility. [It] will be looked at throughout the investigation.”
The contractor conceded that due to the errors an estimated 60 square metres of the wall had not been modified in accordance with approved drawings.
The MTR Corp agreed that the deviations had no safety impact on the wall or adjacent staircases and escalators, but it nevertheless instructed the contractor to open up the whole 320 square metres of the structure for inspection “as a matter of prudence and to address public concerns”.
“We will submit a remedial proposal to the government, and the MTR Corp will supervise all work undertaken by the contractor,” the rail operator said.
While the MTR Corp decided to break open the internal wall in question at To Kwa Wan station for inspection, its representatives said on Tuesday that the procedure had not been scheduled yet with the contractor.
In the investigation interviews, workers revealed one instance where an MTR inspector noticed an area with horizontal reinforcement bars removed but turned a blind eye and did not report it to superiors.
“We are seriously concerned about this omission,” the report said.
The issues at To Kwa Wan station were first exposed last week by HK First lawmaker Claudia Mo Man-ching, who claimed to have been sent information by a worker.
The problems at To Kwa Wan came hot on the heels of another scandal involving a platform at Hung Hom station where workers were found to have cut steel bars to fake proper installation.
The MTR Corp submitted a report on the Hung Hom issues last week after the government announced a judge-led inquiry with the power to summon witnesses and request documents from those involved.
The main contractor, Leighton Contractors (Asia), has yet to comment.
On Sunday, reports surfaced that excavation work had been halted for Exhibition Centre – another station under construction along the line – amid concerns about insufficient underground support work.
The operator also submitted a written account on excavation works at the station to officials yesterday. It said two non-conformance reports were issued to the contractor on May 10 and June 11 for deeper excavation work than allowed. The contractors were also required to submit a remedial proposal in May, but the firm said that only arrived on Tuesday.
The Highways Department on Tuesday night said it was “highly concerned about the supervision problems on the project revealed by the report” and was studying it closely.
Michael Tien Puk-sun, who chairs a railway subcommittee at Hong Kong’s legislature, questioned the integrity of the rail firm’s reporting mechanism.
He asked why the report did not reveal the names of staff accused of keeping the incidents from superiors.
Civic Party lawmaker Tanya Chan said she would write to the chairman of the Legislative Council’s transport panel to request a special meeting to discuss the recent blunders.
“We have no idea who did this wall trimming, or based on whose instruction,” Chan said.