Hong Kong union takes aim at embattled MTR Corp over timetable after Light Rail trains collide
Hong Kong Federation of Railway Trade Unions warns that there is not enough time between trains as drivers face more complex road conditions
A rare collision between two Light Rail trains in Yuen Long on Sunday was a wake-up call for the embattled MTR Corporation to tackle “mismanaged timetables” as drivers face more complex road conditions in the New Territories, a railway union has warned.
Hong Kong Federation of Railway Trade Unions vice-chairman Tam Kin-chiu sounded the alarm on Monday after the collision near the Yuen Long terminus the previous evening.
The incident occurred when a train on the 610 route left the terminus and hit the back of another departing one, which was empty, near Long Lok Road at about 8.30pm.
Three passengers on the 610 train were taken to hospital with minor injuries. Services were disrupted for about 10 minutes as the trains returned to the depot for examination.
Police were investigating the incident and both drivers were suspended from duty.
The MTR Corp, recently plagued by a wave of construction scandals at three stations on the costly Sha Tin-Central rail link, said it was very concerned about the incident and apologised to those affected.
Tam, who described the accident as rare, said he believed it was caused by insufficient time between trains in the Light Rail timetable.
He said there should be at least one to two minutes between departing trains and enough time stipulated for each trip, otherwise passengers would be put at risk.
“Mismanaged timetables for Light Rail trains and the very tight time gap between two departing trains have been issues long neglected by the MTR Corp,” he said.
“For four years our union has repeatedly brought up with the MTR management the need to improve timetables and the time gap between two trains. But the management only replied that it needed to further study this proposal and to balance its service pledges on train frequency.
“Public safety should not be compromised for the sake of maintaining train frequency.”
The union raised the issue as drivers had noticed that trains were operating in more complex road conditions and facing greater hazards.
Tam pointed out that, unlike regular heavy railway lines, Light Rail trains have to share the roads with other forms of transport.
“It means that apart from coping with the MTR’s internal signalling system, Light Rail trains also need to comply with traffic lights and cope with unexpected situations such as bad weather and avoiding disorderly vehicles or pedestrians,” he said.
“For routes with many traffic lights, the time gap between two trains should be at least two minutes.”
Tam said the Light Rail network was complex and needed skilled drivers to operate the trains.
“It is unfair for the MTR Corp to impose a heavy rail management system on the Light Rail trains. Light Rail drivers need to achieve the same performance benchmark as heavy rail drivers. That’s why Light Rail drivers are working under tremendous pressure,” he said.
However, in a reply to the Post’s inquiries, the MTR Corp dismissed the accident as having any direct link with train frequency.
“The MTR is highly concerned about the safety of Light Rail trains and we have very strict driving safety guidelines for drivers … Light Rail trains need to share public roads with other forms of transport and Light Rail drivers need to steer manually to cater to different road conditions,” it said.
“Every day Light Rail drivers’ schedule includes time for rest.”
The rail giant stressed that all drivers undergo very stringent training before being allowed behind the wheel. Young drivers get the training twice a year.
“The company will send staff to conduct spot checks to remind drivers to pay special attention to driving safety,” it said.
The Light Rail network, which has operated in the northwestern New Territories since 1988, covers 68 stops across 36km of track and serves 653,000 passengers a day.