Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam defends MTR chief Frederick Ma after his comments on train derailment draw fire
Chief executive says transport company chairman did not mean it when he told reporters it was ‘meaningless’ to give them more details on incident
Hong Kong’s leader defended her former peer Frederick Ma Si-hang on Tuesday, saying the MTR Corporation chairman had not meant his controversial remarks about not giving the media more details on a derailment during tests for the new express rail link to mainland China.
Speaking before the weekly Executive Council meeting on Tuesday, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said Ma could have been “anxious” when he made the comments as he wanted the company to perform well during the trials.
“If chairman Ma had given people an impression that there was no need to monitor the MTR Corp, or for the MTR Corp to provide information … maybe, like what he said, it was a hot day, I think he did not mean that,” Lam said.
Ma drew fire from lawmakers after he told reporters last Saturday that it would be “meaningless” to give them more details on the derailment incident in April, as they were not technicians.
He also said giving reporters more information would just lead to further questions, adding that some information was internal and could not be released to the public.
“If we tell you it’s OK, then it is, there is no need to worry,” Ma said.
Subsequently, the rail company chairman on Monday blamed the hot weather and his not having prayed that morning for his comments but said there was no need to amend them.
The MTR Corp released its report on the derailment the same day, attributing the incident to calculation errors made by a consultant firm.
According to the report, engineering company Ove Arup & Partners gave MTR Corp the wrong estimate for the forces the tracks could withstand, leading to four wheels on an express rail train shifting “out of position” after trial runs.
Lam said on Tuesday that the Hong Kong government would work closely with the rail operator and “employ a transparent and honest attitude” so the public would have confidence in the express rail link project, which she said was set to commence operations in September.
She added that the project was massive in terms of its cost and the difficulties faced, thus requiring a six-month trial period for irregularities to be ironed out.
“I am confident that the MTR Corp, with decades of experiences, can conduct the tests well,” Lam said.
Transport minister Frank Chan Fan has not directly answered whether the railway operator should bear responsibility for the faulty design, saying officials would study the issue of responsibility later.
“Our priority is fixing the derailed parts and enabling the high-speed railway to operate,” Chan said. “As to how the engineering consultant should compensate, I trust the MTR Corp and the consultant will study the contract agreement and conduct arbitration. We should let the MTR Corp resolve the matter on its own.”
He added that officials and the railway operator had embraced an open and transparent approach when handling similar incidents.
Multiple issues with the express rail link project were exposed by local media over the past two months.
The company admitted earlier this month that water leakage in a tunnel in the New Territories had affected a section of the express rail link’s signalling system.
It also confirmed that wheels on express rail trains were wearing away at a “higher than expected” rate but said this was still within safety standards.
Ma briefly served as the city’s secretary for commerce and economic development between 2007 and 2008, before quitting after the discovery of a blood vessel malformation in his brain. At that time, Lam was the government’s secretary for development.
Additional reporting by Alvin Lum