23 July 2019
MTR projects director Philco Wong (second from right) demonstrates how the steel bars and couplers are used in the construction work at the MTR Hung Hom Station. Photo: HKEJ
MTR projects director Philco Wong (second from right) demonstrates how the steel bars and couplers are used in the construction work at the MTR Hung Hom Station. Photo: HKEJ

Questions remain unanswered over flaws in MTR station expansion

A week after flaws were discovered in the construction work for the expansion of the MTR Hung Hom Station, several questions remain unanswered, and MTR Corp. doesn’t appear to have a full grasp of the situation, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reports.

Apple Daily reported on May 30 that about 5,000 of the 30,000 couplers used in the construction were damaged or displaced. As such, they could not be used to put in place the steel bars needed to build two main walls for the station platform.

The problem was discovered by some workers of China Technology Corp., an entity subcontracted by Leighton Contractors (Asia), which was responsible for building the underground platforms at the station for the HK$87.3 billion Shatin-Central Link.

After Leighton was informed of the flaws, it reportedly ordered the steel bars to be cut short in a suspected attempt to cover up the deficiencies.

But MTR maintained that the platforms are structurally safe since the flaws were detected in time and rectified soon afterwards.

The rail operator accused Apple Daily of publishing a report with misleading headline and content, “which may cause unnecessary public concerns”.

But media found the explanations provided by MTR inadequate and contradictory, fueling suspicions that it was “using lies to hide lies”.

It also appears that MTR had no idea who had actually ordered the steel bars to be cut short and how many steel bars were involved.

Dr. Philco Wong Nai-keung, MTR projects director, told lawmakers last Friday that five steel bars were cut short, only to correct himself later that night that that number was based on a single inspection.

In fact, the problem has been detected as early as 2015, although it came to media’s attention only recently.

At a press conference attended by MTR’s senior management on Wednesday, Wong said inspections conducted between August and December in 2015 discovered at least five cases involving problematic steel bars.

He said five steel bars were involved in one case and less than five in the other four cases, although he could not give an exact number. He said it is common in the construction industry that not everything is recorded.

Wong also said the job of bending the steel bars was outsourced to Fang Sheung Construction Limited, but he did not say if it was the employees of the contractor or the subcontractor who cut the steel bars.

MTR chairman Frederick Ma Si-hang insisted that transparency is one of its top priorities and pledged to take legal action against anyone found to have broken the law.

Asked why the matter had not been reported to either the board or the government, MTR chief executive Lincoln Leong Kwok-kuen said only problems that persist or can affect structural safety need to be reported to the higher-ups under standard procedures.

MTR has hired Wong Chi-ming, a registered structural engineer and geotechnical engineer who has more than 30 years of experience in the field, as an independent expert to conduct safety tests that are expected to be completed in three to four months, following a request by the Highways Department.

The railway operator said it was unable to submit a report on the case to the department on Thursday, the pre-set deadline, because it needs more time to prepare but will do so on June 15.

Secretary for Transport and Housing Frank Chan Fan said on Wednesday night that any follow-up work, including an independent commission, is not ruled out.

Chan could not say if MTR needs to file a police report to seek a criminal investigation based on current information and data.

Meanwhile, Civic Passion lawmaker Cheng Chung-tai has asked Starry Lee Wai-king, who chairs the Legislative Council’s House Committee, to form a select committee to launch an inquiry, a move supported by other pan-democratic lawmakers.

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