Sha Tin-Central link faces further delay after missing documents raise safety concerns at beleaguered Hung Hom station
- Revelation adds to woes surrounding Hong Kong’s costliest rail project after shoddy construction and allegations of cover-up dog MTR Corp
- Government reveals 40 per cent of documents certifying work at two approach tunnels and stabling sidings have gone missing
Hong Kong’s costliest rail project is facing further delays and uncertainty because of an escalating construction scandal, with the government revealing on Wednesday that a missing trove of key documents meant safety could not be guaranteed at the troubled Hung Hom station of the Sha Tin-Central link.
Transport minister Frank Chan Fan said the government had no choice but to make it public after being told by railway operator MTR Corporation last week about unauthorised design changes by the main contractor, and that 40 per cent of documents to certify works at two approach tunnels and for stabling sidings, or connecting side tracks, had gone missing.
“The MTR Corp has failed to submit detailed information to the government. That’s why, up to now, the information we’ve got hold of is still very limited regarding the scale of the problems and the impact,” Chan said. “However, due to public concerns about the construction of Hung Hom station, the government feels the need to be transparent and to be accountable.”
The revelation adds to the MTR Corp’s woes over shoddy construction and allegations of a cover-up involving work on expanded platforms at Hung Hom station that have plagued the HK$97.1 billion (US$12.4 billion) project.
Leighton Contractors (Asia), the main contractor for the project, has been accused of cutting short reinforcement bars and not fitting them properly into couplers, as well as changing supporting diaphragm walls without authorisation.
Chan admitted the newly discovered problems could further delay the opening of the line.
“So far we don’t really know when the whole rail link can be opened,” Chan said, noting that the government, which is the majority shareholder in the MTR Corp, had been pushing the rail operator to consider a partial opening.
The Tai Wai to Hung Hom section was to open by the middle of this year after the original target of December 2018 was pushed back. The opening of the Hung Hom to Admiralty section, originally slated for December 2020, had already been delayed to 2021 before the scandal broke last May.
The government could not verify how safe the station was for now, Chan said, but would make every effort to ensure that standards were met and structural integrity would not be compromised.
This would entail the MTR Corp shouldering the responsibility to either find the missing documents or conducting another round of extensive testing to prove safety compliance, which might require digging up the platforms all over again. Such action is already ongoing to address the bar-cutting scandal.
MTR Corp CEO Lincoln Leong Kwok-kuen said the operator would chase up Leighton for the documents, but insisted there was no evidence so far suggesting the station was unsafe.
“Currently, we see no evidence of there being any structural integrity issues,” he said. “We are disappointed with Leighton about the lack of documentation. We reserve the right to take action against them.
“However, we ourselves at the MTR should have done better regarding vigilance over the contractor.”
The government was first notified in June last year that records were missing for the north approach tunnel, the south approach tunnel and the stabling siding at Hung Hom station, but only discovered how serious it was last week.
Without the check forms to confirm that the construction works complied with all the requirements, the project would not get the essential certificate of completion from the government to start operations.
Director of Highways Jimmy Chan Pai-ming also expressed regret over the MTR Corp’s handling of the issue, but he stressed that the insufficient records and unapproved changes did not necessarily mean there was a safety problem.
Pro-establishment lawmaker and former railway boss Michael Tien Puk-sun said he expected the government to break up more concrete at the station to ensure safety.
“The MTR Corp could not have dreamt that Leighton’s record keeping would be so poor,” Tien said.
Another pro-establishment lawmaker, Lo Wai-kwok of the engineering sector, suggested the operator’s system of project management and quality control might have collapsed.
Leighton refused to comment.