23 March 2019
MTR pledged to thoroughly investigate the derailment of Express Rail Link trains at its Shek Kong depot. Photo: RTHK
MTR pledged to thoroughly investigate the derailment of Express Rail Link trains at its Shek Kong depot. Photo: RTHK

MTR halts Express Rail Link trial runs to probe derailment

Trial runs for the 26-kilometer Hong Kong section of the cross-border Express Rail Link (XRL) have been suspended after the derailment of trains at an MTR Corp. depot raised safety concerns.

Making the announcement on Thursday, the rail operator promised to thoroughly investigate the incident, which it believes will not affect the launch of the XRL services scheduled for the third quarter of this year, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reports.

At about 9 p.m. Tuesday, on the third day of the trial runs, MTR staff at its Shek Kong depot discovered that one of the XRL trains, which were named “Vibrant Express” last month following a public naming contest, had derailed after it returned from a test run earlier that day. 

While MTR issued a press release about the incident early Wednesday morning, it did not give any details.

In a statement on Wednesday evening, a spokesperson for the Transport and Housing Bureau said the government is very concerned about the incident in which some wheels of a stabled high-speed train shifted out of position, stressing that safety is the top priority in any railway operation.

The Electrical and Mechanical Services Department (EMSD) had immediately requested MTR to conduct a thorough investigation before submitting a report as soon as possible to ascertain the cause of the incident and specify what remedial measures will be taken to prevent similar things from happening again, the spokesperson said.

Not long after the government expressed its concerns, Francis Li Shing-kee, MTR head of operations, told media at its Kam Tin Building that an investigation has been underway.

According to Li, the derailment involved four wheels on the right side of the rear car of the XRL train in question, adding that it was found by staff as the train is not connected to a derailment detection system.

Li said initial investigations suggested both the train and the tracks were intact. 

As there was a small curve on the tracks leading to the depot, the train was likely to have created horizontal pressure on and therefore deformed the double-headed rails that support the tracks when passing through it, he said.

Lo Kok-keung, a former engineer in the mechanical engineering department of the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, found it hard to buy the explanation, saying double-headed rails are generally very strong. He suspects the problem could be in the quality of the rails themselves or the construction.

Civic Party lawmaker Tanya Chan Suk-chong called the incident unimaginable and questioned why there was no alarm system in place.

Ben Chan Han-pan from the pro-Beijing Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, who is a member of the Legislative Council’s Panel on Transport, said it is necessary for MTR management to come to the Legco and offer detailed explanations.

The Transport and Housing Bureau said in its statement that the EMSD will verify whether the MTR has properly completed all railway safety-related tests, and will also conduct on-site tests to ensure safe operations before approving the operation of the trains.

Meanwhile, Executive Council convenor Bernard Charnwut Chan said he doesn’t think the incident is a bigger deal than passing the co-location bill for the XRL to begin services as scheduled.

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