MTR Corp is still investigating the reason why a train that will be deployed on the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link (XRL) derailed at a depot after returning from a trial run last week, the railway operator’s chairman said on Tuesday.
Frederick Ma Si-hang told a radio program that MTR, Hong Kong’s sole railway operator, needs more time to look into the incident thoroughly and therefore one cannot say when the trial runs on the 26-kilometer Hong Kong section of XRL will resume.
MTR will submit its investigation report to the government as soon as possible, he said, adding that test runs can only be restarted after authorities go through the report and give the go-ahead.
On the night of April 3, the third day of the trial runs, MTR staff at its Shek Kong depot discovered that one of the XRL trains had derailed after it returned from a test run earlier that day.
The incident raised safety concerns over the high-speed cross-border rail link, which is scheduled to open in the third quarter of this year.
As it began an investigation, MTR decided to suspend all the test runs for the time being.
The Transport and Housing Bureau said the government is very concerned about the incident which saw some wheels of a stabled high-speed train shift out of position.
Given that safety is the top priority in any railway operation, the Electrical and Mechanical Services Department (EMSD) requested MTR to conduct a thorough investigation before submitting a report.
After hearing Ma’s remarks Tuesday, lawmaker Michael Tien Puk-sun, who chairs the Legco’s Subcommittee on Matters Relating to Railways, considered it not wise for MTR to completely suspend test runs of XRL trains just because of a problem that occurred on a maintenance track.
Tien said that the Shek Kong depot still has two more such tracks and therefore MTR can continue test runs between Shek Kong and the West Kowloon Terminus so as to fixe other potential problems, which may result in much more serious incidents if they are only detected after XRL begins operations.
Separately, asked about MTR’s decision to raise ticket prices by 3.14 percent from June this year based on the current fare adjustment mechanism, Ma explained the move is necessary because the company has to maintain its high service levels, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reports.
He also pointed out that the railway operator spends more than HK$8 billion a year on maintenance.
If the company doesn’t ensure high-quality services, it may affect revenues and profits, which could in turn result in staff layoffs and pay cuts, Ma warned.
As to the call for the government to buy back all the MTR shares it does not own, which account for about 25 percent of the company’s total outstanding stock, Ma said it should be left for the government to decide.
That being said, Ma pointed out that the government needs to consider the consequences it may well face after doing so, including how to keep smooth operations and which side should be responsible for paying for future maintenance costs, especially as demand for lower fares will be very likely.
As MTR pays huge dividend annually, it represents a “gold mountain” for citizens, Ma said, adding that he cannot understand why some people would want to disturb the existing shareholding structure.
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