MTR Corporation’s HK$97.1 billion Shatin-Central Link (SCL) rail project, which is already behind schedule, could suffer more delays as the company seeks to smash open walls of the new platforms built at Hung Hom Station for the purpose of safety inspections.
At a hearing held on Tuesday by an inquiry commission that is looking into allegations of shoddy construction work, a lawyer representing the panel revealed that documents received on Nov. 26 from MTR showed the rail operator agreed to crack open concrete slabs used in building the underground platforms of the Hung Hom Station extension that will serve the SCL line.
Multiple construction flaws at the platforms have been discovered over the past few months, leading to concerns that public safety may have been compromised as well as forcing the government to form a panel of experts to carry out an independent and comprehensive investigation into the construction work for the project.
One of the major flaws was steel bars for the concrete walls of the platforms were found to have been cut short to cover up deficiencies, and engineering designs were tampered with.
In October, Secretary for Transport and Housing Frank Chan Fan told the media that it would be inevitable that the slabs need to be cracked open for inspection to allay fears over the safety of the construction.
During a hearing session Tuesday of the Commission of Inquiry, Ian Pennicott, a senior counsel representing the government-appointed panel, noted that MTR’s inspection work could affect the progress of the commission’s hearings.
The lawyer demanded the rail operator provide by Thursday details of its plans to smash open concrete slabs at Hung Hom station, how that work will be done and how long it will take, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reports.
Philip Boulding, a lawyer who represents MTR, told the commission that as of now 81 areas in Hung Hom platforms are planned to be smashed open for inspecting the steel bars.
MTR has sought approval from the government to carry out such work. The final decision lies with the government, the lawyer said.
According to Boulding, the inquiry commission is expected to approve the plan on Thursday and will be informed of the related details soon afterwards.
Justice Michael Hartmann, who chairs the commission, said at the hearing that the Chief Executive in Council on Tuesday approved the commission’s request for extension of time for the panel to submit its report.
Given the extensive scope of the inquiry, the complexity of the matters under examination and the large number of witnesses involved, the inquiry panel sought a new deadline of Feb. 26, rather than the previously-set Jan. 9, 2019 date.
The commission now expects to finish hearing all evidence and the closing addresses by involved parties by late January before proceeding to finalize its report.
The Transport Department has said the opening date for the SCL’s Tuen Ma Line, renamed from East West Corridor, will be subject to further discussions, in view of the incidents concerning the Hung Hom Station and relevant investigation work, even though it was originally scheduled to begin services in mid-2019.
The Legislative Council’s Subcommittee on Matters Relating to Railways will hold a meeting this Friday to review the progress of the entire SCL project.
The latest documents from the Transport and Housing Bureau and MTR show 87 percent of the SCL project had been completed as of Sept. 30, while it should have been 92 percent according to the construction plan.
Although works of the Tuen Ma Line connecting Tai Wai and Hung Hom has been 99 percent completed, compared to the original target set at 100 percent, the documents did not say whether partial opening for the section on the line between Tai Wai Station and Diamond Hill Station or even Ho Man Tin Station is feasible.
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