Hong Kong rail giant MTR Corp ordered to conduct full probe after safety lapses along HK$97.1 billion Sha Tin to Central link
The decision comes after weeks of the rail giant being caught on the back foot by a series of media exposés
The board of Hong Kong’s railway operator on Thursday came down hard on managers caught on the back foot over a string of shoddy construction scandals, ordering them to review the entire reporting and supervision mechanism for safety lapses at the city’s costliest rail project.
MTR Corporation chairman Frederick Ma Si-hang said the board would bring in an external consultant to conduct the review, which is expected to be completed in three to four months.
The action came as the MTR Corp held its second impromptu board meeting in the wake of a wave of revelations by the media of problems plaguing the HK$97.1 billion (US$12.4 billion) Sha Tin to Central link.
Secretary for Transport and Housing Frank Chan Fan, who is a non-executive board member, also attended the meeting in the morning.
“Today, the board has made two decisions to provide additional assurances and confidence to the public,” Ma said.
“The board has asked our capital works committee to conduct a review of the processes and procedures for the Sha Tin-Central link within the corporation’s project management system. The committee will engage an external consultant to assist its review.”
MTR Corp chief executive Lincoln Leong Kwok-kuen also took full responsibility, promising to be “accountable for the activities of the company” and improve any inadequacies.
“There are certainly aspects of the reporting mechanism that are far from satisfactory,” Ma admitted. “Some circumstances have warranted reporting to the government but no such reports were made.
There are certain areas that the management has not done well. Even the MTR’s senior management only became aware of these problems from news reports.”
He was referring to revelations about faulty construction by contractors and cover-ups at three of the stations being built along the new line at Hung Hom, To Kwa Wan and Exhibition Centre.
The review was announced a day after the transport minister chided the MTR Corp for its lax supervision and reporting lapses, saying he had only learned of the faulty construction problems from media reports. Chan said it was “totally unacceptable” that MTR managers had failed to properly supervise contractors, or report incidents of faulty construction to the government, which is the majority shareholder in the company.
However, Ma sidestepped questions as to whether some top bosses needed to step down to take responsibility for the management lapses.
“The imminent task at the moment is to execute the board’s instructions through which we hope the MTR’s management can improve its site supervision work and reporting mechanism,” he said.
As Leighton Contractors (Asia) is the main contractor for the Hung Hom and Exhibition Centre stations but has so far remained silent, Ma agreed that it needed to come clean on its own accord about its responsibility.
At Hung Hom station, workers were found cutting steel bars short to fake proper installation at the platform. Leighton was accused of instructing workers to carry out the fake installation work.
The government has reported the matter to police, and an independent commission of inquiry will conduct a formal investigation.
At To Kwa Wan, steel bars had been removed by another contractor, a joint venture of Hsin Chong Group Holdings and Samsung C&T, in an “unauthorised” manner from a wall that spanned two levels.
And the latest revelations concern work at the Exhibition Centre station for which the contractor is a joint venture between Leighton and China State Construction.
The MTR Corp admitted workers there had dug deeper than allowed before the proper installation of underground support in the form of I-beams.
Despite two warnings of non-compliance last month and earlier this month, the contractor continued with its flawed method of excavation.
In a separate incident, it emerged that a non-compliance warning was issued to the contractor two years ago for building defective cage walls at Exhibition Centre station, but the MTR Corp said the contractor was made to rectify the problem the same year.
Ma said internal investigations were still ongoing, and anyone found to have broken the law would be reported to police.
Leong added that non-compliant contractors would be put on file for future reference when inviting tenders for other projects.
Projects director Philco Wong said non-compliant contractors were still being investigated and information about any safety issues would be made public.
Lawmaker Michael Tien Puk-sun, a former railway chief, said the review was “too myopic”.
“I am surprised at the announcement,” Tien said. “Instead of looking for stopgap measures, the MTR Corp should have a thorough body check.”
Tien pointed to the MTR Corp’s internal review in 2014, which identified some management issues such as former chief executive Jay Walder’s “poor judgment” on monitoring the progress of the cross-border high speed rail link, which saw costs balloon to HK$84.4 billion and the completion date delayed until September this year.
The review also criticised former projects director Chew Tai-chong for failing to inform other executives and the board when he was aware of the possible delay.