Hong Kong MTR

No reason to doubt safety of Hong Kong station at heart of construction scandal, boss of firm that built it says as he goes on attack at commission of inquiry

  • Leighton Contractors (Asia) manager says digging up platform would be unnecessary, damaging and costly
  • Boss also slams suggestion firm tried to bury evidence of wrongdoing as ‘a blatant lie’
PUBLISHED : Monday, 12 November, 2018, 9:31pm
UPDATED : Monday, 12 November, 2018, 10:54pm

The general manager of Leighton Contractors (Asia) went on the attack on Monday as he faced the former judge investigating allegations of shoddy construction work on Hong Kong’s HK$97.1 billion (US$12.4 billion) Sha Tin-Central link.

Karl Speed, the firm’s general manager, defended the work on the station platform at Hung Hom, which is at the heart of the inquiry, with Leighton workers accused of cutting corners during the building process.

While government advisers have recommended digging up a section of the platform, and opening up a diaphragm wall that is also under review, Speed said any such action was unnecessary, and there was no reason to doubt the station’s structural integrity.

The Leighton boss also said it was “a blatant lie” to suggest the firm had tried to bury evidence of wrongdoing when it signed a confidentiality agreement with whistle-blower Jason Poon Chuk-hung, managing director of concreting subcontractor China Technology Corporation.

“Leighton doesn’t recommend physically breaking open the concrete to check the connections between the reinforcement bars with couplers in the platform slabs and diaphragm walls,” Speed told the commission of inquiry.

The general manager said such an inspection method would reduce the strength of the concrete and require “significant and expensive strengthening and propping” before the concrete was broken open.

Workers for Speed’s firm are accused of cutting steel bars short to fake proper installation into couplers on the platform, while there are allegations that supporting diaphragm walls were changed without authorisation.

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“In any event, Leighton doesn’t believe it is necessary and appropriate to conduct such costly and damaging inspection. There is no reason to doubt the structural integrity and safety of the diaphragm walls and platform slabs,” Speed said.

The Leighton boss emphasised his belief that his stance was supported by evidence supplied by the people involved in the rail project.

“No evidence suggests that there is anything wrong with what has been constructed,” Speed said. “Based on the evidence provided by the professionals that worked on the project … the works had been constructed in accordance with the contract.”

However, Michael Hartmann, the inquiry chairman, a former non-permanent judge on Hong Kong’s top court, asked if Speed had been aware of the recommendations made by government advisers in an interim report on the matter.

In the report, the advisers recommended that MTR Corporation formulate a strategy for assessing the works in the expanded Hung Hom station, including methods of opening up the platform structures, non-destructive tests and load tests. The government is still awaiting another report from the rail operator with more detailed information.

But, Speed told the inquiry chairman he had not read the report, and even if he had it would be unlikely to change his view on the subject.

The general manager also denied suggestions Leighton had given its workers instructions to cut the rebar before placing it in the platform.

“Leighton has found no evidence of any instructions being given by Leighton to cut off or shorten the threaded ends of rebars,” he said.

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Speed said Leighton was only aware of three occasions of bar-cutting by staff of subcontractor Fang Sheung Construction at the end of 2015. As a result, a nonconformance report had been issued to Fang Sheung.

“Leighton knows of no more than eight of these defective rebars … which were promptly identified and rectified by our teams … I am informed that all couplers were visually inspected,” he said.

As to the confidential agreement the firm entered into with Poon, Speed adamantly rejected any suggestion the move was to ensure Poon destroyed photos and videos purportedly showing shoddy work.

“This is categorically a blatant lie. It never happened,” Speed said.

Meanwhile, Cheung Chiu-fung, site foreman for Fang Sheung, said he felt ashamed when he was notified about defective work by his workers, via the nonconformance report.

He believed the workers acted independently in cutting the rebar, and had done so because they encountered difficulties during its installation because of some damaged couplers.

“I don’t think the workers did the bar-cutting on purpose,” he said. “They were just acting stupidly and recklessly for the sake of convenience.”