Lawmakers blast MTR’s disclosure of second case of subsidence at Hong Kong light rail stop
Democratic Party lawmaker Roy Kwong compared government releasing information to squeezing tube of toothpaste
A second case of land subsidence at a light rail station in Hong Kong was revealed on Wednesday, with lawmakers blasting its casual disclosure and comparing the government’s approach to transparency to “squeezing a tube of toothpaste”.
Democratic Party lawmaker Roy Kwong Chun-yu launched a broadside after acting secretary for transport and housing, Raymond So Wai-man, revealed Tin Wing stop had also been affected by subsidence and a developer had been told to stop building work there.
Up till then, the public only knew about sinking problems at the viaduct pier of Yuen Long station, involving the same developer, after a media exposé last month – even though the incident happened five years ago.
Kwong had asked the Transport and Housing Bureau a question about the Yuen Long case and So, delivering his response at a Legislative Council meeting, said: “According to The MTR Corporation, there are 64 projects under settlement monitoring within the railway protection area, of which 56 involve [heavy rail] construction work and eight involve light rail construction work.
“There have been two cases of suspension of works due to settlement, one concerning the viaduct pier of Yuen Long station and the other concerning the platform of Tin Wing stop on the light rail. The future communication and information dissemination arrangements aims to enhance transparency.”
So did not give further details, and none of more than 35 lawmakers in the chamber reacted to the information, though they did pose other questions to the minister.
It was only after the meeting ended that Kwong realised So’s response about Tin Wing stop was not in the written reply he had received in the morning.
He slammed the government for releasing information like it was “squeezing a tube of toothpaste”.
“I am shocked at such a reply. It is a matter of public safety,” Kwong said, adding he found it weird that the government was putting out information in a piecemeal fashion and questioned whether it intended to “muddle through” safety issues.
Sun Hung Kai Properties later confirmed its building work at the station had been suspended at the request of the MTR Corp due to sinking problems.
SHKP won the development rights to the 197,000 sq ft site atop Tin Wing in 2015. The 1,500 unit development was expected to be completed in 2021.
Hong Kong Federation of Railway Trade Unions vice-chairman Tam Kin-chiu weighed in, saying the MTR Corp should not have kept light rail staff in the dark about the problems at Tin Wing.
About six months ago light rail drivers were told by MTR management to slow down from 35km/h to 15km/h when approaching Tin Wing stop platform.
“We don’t know if this new move is due to the subsidence problems at the platform or not. Our company never explained the reasons to us. If this is due to the sinking problems, we have a right to know what happened because it concerns staff safety too,” Tam said.
A government spokesman said the MTR Corp had reported the most recent incident to the Highways Department which confirmed the structural safety of the station platform was not affected.
“The rail operation is running normally according to the safety standards,” the spokesman said.
He said the MTR Corp would give an account to the public later while the government had been liaising with different departments and the rail operator in reviewing the reporting mechanism with a view of enhancing transparency.
In a statement issued late Wednesday night, MTR Corp said the property development project atop Tin Wing stop started in September last year, and slight settlement was found in October at Platform No 7. The developer then switched to another construction method. The rail operator has been closely monitoring the settlement situation.
The company said that on June 8, when the developer completed another round of concrete grouting to rein in subsidence, the settlement of the platform reached the limit of 80mm, and on June 25, the platform settlement slightly exceeded 80mm during platform reinforcement works by the developer, leading to an immediate request by MTR Corp for a work suspension.
“Since this date, MTR Corp has been working with the relevant professionals to identify measures to address the issue. In the course of applying the settlement controlling measures, railway operations safety is always assured,” the statement said.
“Construction methods that can effectively reduce platform settlement are being explored, and construction works will resume only after it is guaranteed that the construction will not have any impact on railway safety and upon the agreement of relevant government departments.”
The bureau and the MTR Corp have been plagued by a series of construction scandals at the HK$97.1 billion (US$12.4 billion) Sha Tin to Central link for their reporting and supervision lapses.
The MTR Corp admitted in June that subsidence occurred at the viaduct piers of Yuen Long station which reached almost 20mm in 2013, the maximum tolerable settlement limit, due to the impact of construction at a nearby site for the third phase of the luxury Grand Yoho development.
Construction work on the luxury residential project by Sun Hung Kai Properties was suspended in September 2013. The rail giant’s reinforcement proposal was approved by the government in June 2015 but the work only started in September last year to be completed this year.