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Hong Kong MTR

Penalty for Hong Kong’s MTR Corp over worst ever breakdown remains unclear, as lawmaker calls for review

  • Former rail boss Michael Tien says existing arrangement to consider penalties are ‘mild and meaningless’
  • Paper submitted to Legco rules out blame on a new upgrading test, computer virus or sabotage
PUBLISHED : Saturday, 27 October, 2018, 7:00pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 27 October, 2018, 8:12pm

The penalty for Hong Kong’s rail giant over its worst service failure ever remains unclear more than a week after the chaos, as authorities have said they would only follow up on punishment “later”, pending an investigation.

The government also said system failure was the cause, ruling out blame on a signalling upgrade project, computer virus or sabotage.

The comments were carried in a paper by the Transport and Housing Bureau, which was submitted to a Legislative Council subcommittee. The group will discuss on Monday the severe breakdown on four of the city’s lines that caused six hours of commuter turmoil on the morning of October 16.

Lawmakers want MTR to get big fine over rush hour chaos

On punishment to be meted out to the MTR Corporation, the bureau only stated that the operator would be penalised for any service disruption of 31 minutes or more caused by a system breakdown. This was according to the service performance arrangement stipulated under the rail giant’s fare adjustment mechanism.

But authorities did not elaborate on the exact amount of the fine.

“As the government and the MTR Corp are still conducting in-depth investigation on the root cause of the incident, the government will follow up with [the company] later,” the paper stated.

Under the arrangement, the rail giant faces a fine of HK$1 million per incident if a service disruption lasts between 31 minutes and an hour. A three- to four-hour delay would incur a HK$5 million fine, and a further HK$2.5 million for each extra hour.

MTR delays hit Hong Kong passengers for second time in October

But the bureau did not state whether it would treat the six hours of chaos that day as a single incident or separate events.

During the morning rush hour on October 16, MTR lines Island, Kwun Tong, Tsuen Wan and Tseung Kwan O were disrupted by a signalling fault, affecting hundreds of thousands of commuters on their way to work and school.

Subcommittee chairman Michael Tien Puk-sun said he had been pushing for a review of the mechanism and suggested that the future penalty be based on the loss of productivity, factoring in the number of affected passengers and the distance they could have travelled on a normal day.

He said he would table a motion in the Monday meeting.

“The current formula is too mild and meaningless and has drawn public outrage,” Tien added.

The current formula is too mild and meaningless and has drawn public outrage
Michael Tien, lawmaker

The paper also stated that the signalling system of the four lines were built by two suppliers and interconnected by a computer.

This meant the entire framework relied on synchronised data transmission at all times. An “uncoordinated situation” between the interconnected systems on October 16, led to “unstable operation”.

The paper added that the Electrical and Mechanical Services Department also agreed with the initial findings.

Details showed that the MTR Corp tested a new signalling system along the Tsuen Wan line in the early hours of that day. Shortly before 5am, the operator had switched back to the existing system supplied by the two vendors, and trains deployed without any issue.

It’s unacceptable of MTR to blame computer failure for massive train delays

The problem then occurred 30 minutes later, the bureau revealed.

At 6.20am, the MTR Corp reported the matter to the Transport Department and issued a code red alert when it could not rectify the glitch.

“The incident indeed occurred only after [the MTR Corp] had switched the signalling system back to the existing one and had operated normally for some time. Hence, there was no evidence showing correlation between the incident and the signalling system upgrading project and its testing,” the paper stated.

The MTR Corp has set up a review panel and invited overseas experts to assist in the investigation. It is required to submit a detailed report to authorities in two months.