Troubled MTR Corp has stopped work in fresh construction scandal on Hong Kong’s HK$97.1 billion Sha Tin-Central rail link, claims lawmaker Michael Tien
Former KCR chairman says issue surrounds insufficient underground support work at new station for Exhibition Centre
Hong Kong’s most expensive rail project was plunged into deeper controversy on Sunday amid accusations of insufficient underground support work at one of the new stations, leading to suspension of the excavation works.
Lawmaker Michael Tien Puk-sun, quoting anonymous sources with knowledge of the situation, said the MTR Corporation was made aware of the situation at the Exhibition Centre Station for the new HK$97.1 billion Sha Tin-Central Link around two weeks ago.
“The MTR has suspended the excavation works at the station and it must have done so because it considered the incident unacceptable,” said Tien, a former chairman of the rail operator KCR before it merged with the MTR Corporation in 2007.
The Highways Department said on Sunday night it had not yet been informed by the MTR about the latest incident but had asked the railway company to give a written reply within 48 hours.
The department added that the MTR, as project manager of the link, was responsible for the safety and quality of the project.
According to the rail operator’s website, the “cut and cover” excavation method was adopted at almost all stations on the link. Under this method, trench cutters are first used to build trenches for diaphragm walls. Then the walls are installed deep underground.
Once these procedures are completed, excavation takes place between the walls. For every two to three metres of excavation, I-beams must be installed between the walls so they do not bend or collapse.
“If not enough I-beams were installed, the walls could bend. It would be easy to spot it,” engineer Chan Chi-ming said.
Temporary road decks are also placed on the road surface for vehicles to pass through, so the excavation can continue underground and not affect traffic.
Tien’s accusation is that not enough I-beams have been installed, as he believed contractors were in a rush to complete the project. He did not know how deep the excavation has gone.
A joint venture of Leighton Contractors (Asia) and China State Construction was responsible for the works at the Exhibition Centre stop.
The two companies did not respond to inquiries on Sunday.
An MTR spokesman said on Sunday night that safety has always been its top priority. The company stressed that contractors must comply with all rules, he added.
The spokesman then said the MTR will provide the Highways Department with a written reply as requested and brief the media.
The MTR is already embroiled in a spate of construction controversies on the Sha Tin-Central line.
Last week, the Highways Department asked police to investigate after the main contractor, Leighton, was accused of instructing a subcontractor to cut steel bars to make it seem as if they had been screwed correctly into couplers.
The department’s decision to involve the police was made after MTR Corp released a 46-page report on the corner-cutting controversy. The cutting happened on the floor of one of two new underground levels being built beneath Hung Hom Station to house four platforms.
Chan also said inspections need to be carried out to see if the site had subsided, as that could harm the safety of neighbouring buildings.
He said people in the construction business would know that installing inadequate I-beams could lead to serious problems. He believed failing to do so could have happened if the people involved in the project wanted to save time.
Democratic Party’s Lam Cheuk-ting, a member of the Legislative Council’s subcommittee on matters concerning the city’s railways, said MTR Corp must give an immediate and full explanation on the matter.
He said the commission of inquiry tasked with investigating the corner-cutting saga, which is to be chaired by former non-permanent judge of the Court of Final Appeal Michael Hartmann, should also look into this latest scandal.
Last week, Hong Kong’s leader Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor announced the creation of the independent body and vowed that it would be given “all necessary power” in its work.