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Hong Kong MTR

Hong Kong’s scandal-hit Sha Tin-Central rail link facing further delay of at least 6 months as experts suggest tearing up part of platform for probe

Engineering troubleshooting team has recommended partially dismantling platform at Hung Hom station to examine condition, source tells Post

PUBLISHED : Monday, 15 October, 2018, 11:24pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 16 October, 2018, 4:57pm

Hong Kong’s most expensive railway project will face a further delay of at least six months if the government follows the recommendation of an independent expert team to partly tear up a new platform at Hung Hom station to investigate allegations of shoddy construction work amid safety fears, the Post has learned.

A three-member team of engineering troubleshooters appointed by the government suggested further investigative work that would mean another half year before the already long-delayed HK$97.1 billion (US$12.4 billion) Sha Tin-Central link could be opened, a source familiar with the situation said on Monday.

“The experts suggest only tearing up a small part of the platform to examine if the conditions inside fully conform with the inspection forms and other documents,” the source said. “Then they can further infer if shoddy work has indeed been conducted. They estimate this process will at least delay the Sha Tin-Central rail link for another six months.”

The source said the partial dismantling of the 10,000 square metre platform would be monitored by the expert team.

The three engineers, who once worked as senior government officials and were parachuted into the MTR Corporation to investigate the scandal-plagued railway project, have already held several meetings with the Transport and Housing Bureau, other relevant government departments and the railway operator to discuss their findings.

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This comes amid reports of peeling concrete, exposed steel bars and holes in the shape of honeycombs uncovered at the platform in question.

Also on Monday, the MTR Corp submitted its own proposal to the government on testing and verifying the integrity of the platform section, including cracking open part of the concrete.

“Upon the government’s approval of the proposal, the corporation will commence the tests as soon as possible,” the rail giant told the Post.

“During the preparation of the proposal, the corporation has been 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 to allay the public’s concern. The corporation attaches top priority to the safety and quality of railway projects.”

Lawmaker Michael Tien Puk-sun, a former railway boss, said that as far as he knew, the only difference between the views of the experts and the MTR Corp was that the MTR proposed to break deeper into the platform slab.

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“Based on what I gathered, the MTR experts want to be stricter about this demolition and hope to break deeper into the concrete to get to the bottom. If they just scratch the surface by cracking open the surface layers of the platform slab and nothing striking is found, they will face a high risk of being sued by Leighton, the main contractor,” Tien said.

“But the expert team is afraid that the MTR’s proposal would affect the platform’s structural safety. They need to reach an agreement about this.”

Tien urged the government to accept and get moving on the remedial measures to bring about a swift end to the controversy. He estimated that if the government decided to tear up the platform, work could begin at the end of this year and the process would take about three months.

A spokeswoman for the Transport and Housing Bureau confirmed that the government had received the MTR report on Monday.

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“The government will closely examine the report and will request the MTR Corp provide further information if needed,” she said. The expert team was still in the process of drafting its first interim report to the government, she added.

“The report will explain their work progress and make recommendations about how to handle the structural problems at the expanded platform of Hung Hom station. Their report is expected to be finished this month,” she said.

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The construction scandal erupted in May when media reports revealed the cutting of steel bars to imitate proper installation into couplers at the Hung Hom platform.

Leighton Contractors (Asia), the main contractor in charge of building the platform, has remained silent on the issue.

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An independent commission of inquiry, appointed by the government and chaired by Michael Hartmann, a former non-permanent Court of Final Appeal judge, will begin its hearing on the troubled project on October 22.

Before the scandal broke, the New Territories-to-Kowloon section of the rail link was expected to open by mid-2019; the cross-harbour section, which links Hung Hom to Admiralty, was scheduled to launch in 2021.

At HK$5.71 billion per kilometre, this makes the 17km link one of the costliest in the world for its size.