Hong Kong government ready to demolish part of HK$97.1 billion rail project to find out if shoddy construction work put public safety at risk
Lawmaker Michael Tien reveals plan to dig up part of a new platform at Hung Hom station, as transport minister Frank Chan says any work on Sha Tin-Central link depends on report from MTR Corporation
A new platform at Hung Hom station is likely to be partially torn up to find out if safety has been compromised, as the government tries to get to the bottom of the construction scandal plaguing Hong Kong’s most expensive rail project.
According to lawmaker Michael Tien Puk-sun, one of the harshest critics of the HK$97.1 billion (US$12.4 billion) Sha Tin-Central link, the demolition will also include two of the connecting diaphragm walls, further delaying the opening of the much-troubled line.
However, Secretary for Transport and Housing Frank Chan Fan said on Thursday any decision on digging up part of the platform was not yet final, and depended on a report the MTR Corporation is expected to submit this month.
“As of now, there is certainly some kind of delay [expected],” he said. “But, how long that is has yet to be ascertained, because we have yet to ascertain what was built, how it was built, and whether any remedial corrections are necessary,” he said.
“In order to relieve public anxiety about the safety and integrity of the building structures, we have requested the MTR Corp formulate a set of strategies to identify the structural condition of the expanded platform of Hung Hom station.
“The approach comprises review and verification of all site records, opening up the connections between the platform slabs and diaphragm walls for inspection, carrying out non-destructive tests and load tests, etc. The MTR Corp has agreed to submit a detailed proposal as soon as possible.
“Whether we should do it depends on the outcome of the MTR investigations, and their proposals to us.”
On Thursday, the MTR Corporation said it was talking to the government about what action to take.
“In order to allay the public’s concerns, the corporation is in close communication with the government, and its expert adviser team, to formulate feasible and appropriate measures to test and verify the integrity of the Hung Hom Station platform slab. There are ongoing discussions on the matter,” the rail operator said in a statement.
But, according to Tien, the former chairman of Kowloon-Canton Railway Corporation, the government confirmed to him part of the concrete at the platform would be knocked down for detailed checking, if the structure was found to be badly built.
“I have been urging the government to pry open some concrete and conduct a thorough check since day one,” he said. “Now the government finally gives the green light and orders the MTR Corporation to submit more details this month, before carrying out the demolition work next month.”
The demolition work, and inquiry that has prompted it, arose out of a construction scandal that erupted in May, and involved the cutting of steel bars to imitate proper installation into couplers in the station platform.
Leighton Contractors (Asia), the main contractor in charge of building the station platform of the multibillion-dollar rail link, has remained silent on the issue.
However, Tien said the MTR Corp needed to propose the areas to be examined, and to what extent they needed to be demolished, to ensure any work did not affect the structure as a whole.
“The MTR Corp needs to submit two proposals: to identity the demolished area which should not be too big or too small,” he said. “Also, it needs to submit a remedial proposal in case that the platform is riddled with faulty work and needs to be demolished.”
Tien pointed out that the rail operator needed to spell out the worst case scenario in its report to the government. “As far as I know the MTR Corp is confident of delivering proposals that meet the requirements of the government,” he said. “Opening up part of the platform won’t be a problem for them.”
The lawmaker said civil engineer Nelson Yeung, who is a former construction manager for the high-speed rail link’s West Kowloon terminus, would be transferred to take charge of the Hung Hom station project, and oversee any demolition work.
An insider source said about seven locations of the 10,000-sq metres platform would be pried open, and the demolition work would be monitored by the government-appointed three-member team.
In an MTR report in June, it said construction of the diaphragm walls, which support the platform in question, was done in accordance with the approved design, and 23,500 couplers were installed on the platform.
But in July, the railway firm submitted drawings showing the design of the diaphragm walls was modified without the Buildings Department’s approval in advance, and 2,000 couplers were missing.
The construction scandal led to an overhaul of top management at the rail operator, with four executives resigning in early August, and an early departure planned for CEO Lincoln Leong Kwok-kuen.
The government-appointed independent commission of inquiry, chaired by Michael Hartmann, a former non-permanent Court of Final Appeal judge, will begin its hearing on October 22.
Police are also investigating, at the request of the Highways Department.