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Hong Kong MTR

Transport chief Frank Chan admits officials have no idea about construction situation at scandal-hit station on Sha Tin-Central rail link in Hong Kong

  • Transport secretary tells inquiry officials had assumed construction details were clear and clearly recorded but have since learned otherwise
  • He says there is no need to talk to whistle-blower because police are investigating
PUBLISHED : Monday, 17 December, 2018, 6:15pm
UPDATED : Monday, 17 December, 2018, 11:05pm

Hong Kong’s transport minister has admitted the government still does not have a grasp of the construction situation at the scandal-hit Hung Hom station of the Sha Tin-Central link, the city’s costliest rail project.

However, Secretary for Transport and Housing Frank Chan Fan on Monday insisted there was no need to interview the subcontractor who exposed alleged shoddy work as police were investigating to see whether wrongdoing was involved.

Chan made the assertion while giving evidence at a commission of inquiry into the construction scandal on the expanded Hung Hom station platform of the HK$97.1 billion (US$12.4 billion) rail link.

Leighton Contractors (Asia), the main contractor for the project, is embroiled in allegations that steel reinforcement bars were cut short to fake proper installation into couplers on a platform at the station, and that supporting diaphragm walls were changed without authorisation.

MTR chairman ‘disappointed’ in manager who sent inaccurate report

The MTR Corporation is in the process of breaking open 80 locations on two platforms of the station including the connections to the diaphragm walls to see if structural safety has been compromised. The whole process is expected to take about 16 weeks and the rail giant is due to submit an interim report to the commission next month.

Chan said the government decided to proceed with opening up two platform slabs rather than the originally planned load test after wrongly trusting the MTR Corp.

If that was the performance they delivered, you would wonder whether the basis of trust was still there
Frank Chan, on MTR Corp report

“At the time [when we proposed a load test] we assumed the construction details were clear and clearly recorded. But afterwards … we found that even today we still do not know the actual situation of construction,” he admitted.

“There are a lot of things that we are not clear on so we need to open up the platform slabs to ascertain the construction details 100 per cent. Only after that are we able to consider whether there is a need to conduct a load test or not.”

Chan said the government started to lose trust in the rail giant’s project management team after it submitted a report in mid-July that contradicted its first one, of June 15 this year.

Subsequently, based on a request by Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, three project managers were fired and projects director Philco Wong Nai-keung was forced to resign.

The June report stated the number of couplers for the platform was 23,500 with a retrospective checklist attached to it. However, the second report said the actual number should be 2,000 fewer as there had been a design change to the diaphragm walls.

“If the July report is accurate, then we’ll have a lot of concerns and reservations about the previous report in June, as to the authenticity of the drawings we saw with signatures and dates,” Chan said.

“If that was the performance they delivered, you would wonder whether the basis of trust was still there.

“If there’s anything that may affect public safety or structural safety, it would certainly not be acceptable to us … so we asked whether we should continue to rely on the same team to take the project forward.”

Chan admitted that it was only after the scandal broke in late May that he became aware of a brief email whistle-blower Jason Poon Chuk-hung sent to him in September last year requesting a meeting with relevant officials and Leighton. At the time a colleague handled the email and soon afterwards Poon replied that the matter had been resolved.

MTR Corp team backdated key checklist on scandal-hit rail project

However, Chan dismissed the need to interview Poon himself about his complaint details when asked by Paul Shieh Wing-tai SC, for Leighton.

“If there was an allegation of massive cutting of couplers or rebars, we thought it would be better for law enforcement agencies to carry out an investigation … to get out the truth,” he said.

The hearing continues.