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Hong Kong MTR

Fresh cover-up accusations hit Hong Kong’s MTR and contractor Leighton over more shoddy construction at Hung Hom station

  • Designs for 77 sections of wall said to have been revised without government authorisation
  • Transport minister Frank Chan sidesteps questions over whether the government deliberately kept the public in the dark
PUBLISHED : Friday, 19 October, 2018, 4:40pm
UPDATED : Friday, 19 October, 2018, 10:24pm

Hong Kong’s railway operator and government have been accused of sweeping more shoddy construction under the rug involving a platform at Hung Hom station already plagued by scandal.

Fresh cover-up allegations were aired on Friday as transport minister Frank Chan Fan faced the legislature’s transport panel.

The designs for 77 sections of wall, which account for 30 per cent of all so-called diaphragm walls for the station platform, were said to have been revised in 2013 without authorisation from the government.

The modifications were allegedly carried out by the project’s main engineering firm, Leighton Contractors (Asia).

The latest accusations are based on confidential submissions to a government-appointed independent commission of inquiry set up to probe separate substandard work already identified at the station.

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Hung Hom station is undergoing modifications to service the Sha Tin-Central link, Hong Kong’s most expensive railway construction project ever, at HK$97.1 billion (US$12.4 billion).

Several separate allegations have already been made about substandard work at the facility, and the commission will hold its first hearing on the matter on Monday.

The wall revisions are said to have resulted in the removal of a large number of U-shaped steel bars at the top of the structures that served the purpose of securing them. Such changes should have been run past authorities.

Local media reported that the MTR Corporation only found out about the unauthorised modifications in January 2015 when Leighton sought approval of its work from the rail operator.

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The MTR Corp is then said to have discussed the issue with project design consultant Atkins before reporting it to the government’s Highways Department and Buildings Department in July 2015.

Suggestions were given to Leighton to install additional reinforcement bars, but the company allegedly failed to do so. In the end the MTR Corp and the contractor decided to simply remove the top layer of the diaphragm walls and use long steel bars instead of U-shaped ones.

Chan on Friday sidestepped questions from lawmakers over whether the government had deliberately kept the public in the dark about the unapproved work.

“Secretary Chan, has the government deliberately covered it up?” asked HK First legislator Claudia Mo Man-ching.

Civic Party lawmaker Tanya Chan said: “Have you read the newspaper yet? Do you have a grasp of what has happened with this unapproved work?”

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The transport chief replied: “There are a lot of investigations going on, including the commission of inquiry. I think it’s better for the commission to find out the truth. At this stage it is not proper for us to comment.”

An MTR report in June this year said construction of the diaphragm walls had been done in accordance with the approved designs, and 23,500 couplers had been installed on the platform.

But in July, the railway firm submitted another report to the government conceding that the wall designs had been modified without Buildings Department approval, and 2,000 couplers were missing.

Allegations of faulty work at Hung Hom first emerged in May when it was disclosed that steel bars had been cut short to fake proper installation into couplers.

Leighton has been silent on the controversy.

The commission of inquiry is being led by Michael Hartmann, a former non-permanent judge on Hong Kong’s Court of Final Appeal.

The scandals have already spurred an overhaul of top management at the MTR Corp, with four executives resigning in early August and an early departure planned for CEO Lincoln Leong Kwok-kuen.

Police are also investigating the case, at the request of the Highways Department.

An MTR Corp spokeswoman on Friday declined to comment.

“It would be inappropriate to comment on this matter at this time. A substantive hearing for the commission of inquiry will commence soon,” she said. “The corporation will fully cooperate with the inquiry to find the truth and allay public concerns.”