Hong Kong MTR

Fresh MTR Corp investigation shunted into siding by Hong Kong lawmakers as leaked photos raise questions about what rail operator knew and when

Politicians with links to special interest groups shut down pan-democrat bid to launch inquiry into HK$97.1 billion Sha Tin to Central rail link scandal

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 12 July, 2018, 11:54pm
UPDATED : Friday, 13 July, 2018, 3:14am

Pan-democrat lawmakers on Thursday failed in their bid to launch an investigation into a scandal dogging Hong Kong’s rail company, just as fresh allegations of shoddy construction work were revealed.

While more than half the lawmakers from elected geographical constituencies supported a motion by the Democratic Party’s Lam Cheuk-ting, those elected by business and interest groups shot it down.

Lam accused the pro-establishment camp of helping the MTR Corporation and government play down the scandal plaguing the HK$97.1 billion (US$12.4 billion) Sha Tin to Central rail link.

“Legco has a role to help public learn the truth,” Lam said at the last meeting of the full council before its summer break.

News of problems along the line emerged in May, with most of them centred on a platform at Hung Hom station. It was revealed that steel bars had been cut short to make it seem as if they had been screwed correctly into couplers.

On Thursday, freshly leaked photos, said to have been taken in 2013, suggested steel bars forming the structure for two diaphragm walls supporting the platform were not fully screwed to connecting couplers.

The photos showed some steel bars were not even fitted into the couplers, and one also showed an MTR employee watching the defective work take place.

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A spokeswoman for French-based subcontractor Intrafor, which built the walls, said the firm had no comment.

The railways subcommittee chairman and former rail boss Michael Tien Puk-sun said the structural safety of the walls depended on the number of steel bars affected.

“We don’t know how many steel bars were not fully connected, so it’s really hard to comment on the risk,” Tien said. “But my overall analysis is that those involved adopted a lax attitude to safety standards.

“As long as the building work wouldn’t create any real safety issues, they just let it go.”

Lam said the new photos made him doubt whether rectifications had been made for defective work at Hung Hom station.

“There is an MTR employee in the photo, which contradicts the firm’s earlier statement that they only found out about the incident in 2015,” he said.

On Thursday, lawmakers also heard that all the key contractors involved in the construction of the station – including the main contractor Leighton Contractors (Asia) – had refused to meet the subcommittee to discuss the shoddy work. The only exception was China Technology Corp’s managing director Jason Poon Chuk-hung.

Civic Party lawmaker Tanya Chan called it an “insult to lawmakers and citizens”.

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MTR Corp said they could not ascertain when and where the leaked photos were taken.

“In the photos, some individual bars of the steel cages were shown not properly connected. In general, during the connection process of two steel cages, which are lifted up, some individual steel bars may not be completely connected due to minor swinging,” the rail operator said.

It explained on-site staff would conduct inspections and if any incomplete connection were found, technicians from the contractor would loosen the U-shape bolts to adjust and reconnect the steel bars.

The Highways Department said it could not confirm the location from the leaked photos, nor whether the steel bar works had already been completed.