15 July 2019
Facing severe criticism for Tuesday’s six-hour service disruption, MTR Corp has promised to take measures to prevent a repeat of such disaster. Photo: HKEJ
Facing severe criticism for Tuesday’s six-hour service disruption, MTR Corp has promised to take measures to prevent a repeat of such disaster. Photo: HKEJ

MTR blames computer glitch for Tuesday’s service breakdown

The unprecedented service disruptions that affected four of MTR Corporation’s rail lines at the same time Tuesday morning was probably caused by a computer software glitch, according to the Hong Kong railway operator.

Initial findings of an investigation into the incident suggest that computer systems malfunctioned, resulting in signaling failure and the subsequent service breakdown, an official said on Wednesday.

Speaking on a radio program Wednesday, MTR’s Chief of Operations Engineering Tony Lee Kar-yun vowed that the company would take necessary measures to prevent such disaster from happening again, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reports.

According to Lee, MTR’s engineering staff and signaling system supplier conducted preliminary investigations late Tuesday night. The experts found that the signaling problems arose due to simultaneous synchronization of vast amounts of data among the computers which controlled signaling of different lines and were interconnected but located in different sections.

Such synchronization consumed large amount of resources and rendered the whole computer system unstable, he said.

The data synchronization was believed to have had something to do with the computer program and settings.

MTR had never encountered such situation until now, Lee said. Following the breakdown this week, the railway operator has ensured that computers of the four lines were no longer connected to one another for the time being, the official said.

Related information has been forwarded to the system supplier based in France as well as an investigation committee for in-depth probe, according to MTR.

The senior management of MTR made multiple apologies to the public following Tuesday’s transport chaos, which inconvenienced office-goers and prompted a volley of criticism against the rail firm, already reeling from a work-quality scandal.

As a way of compensation, MTR agreed to offer half fare concessions to its passengers for one day.

On Tuesday, Hong Kong’s sole railway operator detected signaling failure at about 5:30 am before it soon decided to reduce train frequency of the Island, Tsuen Wan and Kwun Tong lines.

A few hours later the Tseung Kwan O line also encountered similar problems.

As a large number of commuters relied on the four lines to go to work or school, there were chaotic scenes at multiple MTR stations as people found themselves stranded on overcrowded platforms.

Normal services eventually resumed at around 11:45 am.

Calling Tuesday’s breakdown very serious, Ben Chan Han-pan, chairman of the Legislative Council’s Panel on Transport, slammed MTR for failing to adopt a mechanism to cope with the sort of contingency that emerged this week.

The latest incident also served to highlight the risks that Hong Kong faces as it depends too much on the MTR for mass transportation needs, Chan said.

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