Tunnel operator faces questions after West Kowloon accident

March 06, 2019 14:38
Following a deadly bus-truck collision near the Western Harbour Crossing, the tunnel operator is coming under scrutiny in relation to its response time to cases of on-road breakdown of vehicles. Photos: HKEJ, TVB News video/screenshot

As authorities investigate Monday's deadly road accident which saw a double-decker bus crash into a stationary lorry near the Western Harbour Crossing, the company responsible for the operations and management of the key transport link is facing some questions.

The Western Harbour Tunnel Company, which manages the harbor crossing tunnel, is being accused by a family member of an accident victim of failing to act quickly to remove a truck that had broken down on the road.

The inaction led to the truck lying stranded on the road, leading up to the accident with the bus, it is alleged. 

On Monday morning, a Route 967 Citibus public transport vehicle, which was plying the Tin Shui Wai to Admiralty route, slammed into a light goods vehicle that had broken down in the second lane of West Kowloon Highway and stopped within the tunnel area.

The collision led to both the drivers getting killed and injuring 16 bus passengers.

It was found later that the lorry had stayed unmoved near the Kowloon entrance of the tunnel for nearly one hour before the Western Harbour Tunnel Co. took notice.

The tunnel company is now facing questions as to whether it failed to fulfill one of its performance pledges which, according to its website, is to “ensure an average time of no more than six minutes for removing an immobilized vehicle from the scene of an incident within the tunnel area”.

The lorry driver’s wife is believed to have told police that the vehicle was forced to stop in the middle of the road at 9:10 a.m, and that her husband just kept making calls to get a tow company to help him before he finally succeeded in receiving an offer of help about an hour later.

However, tragedy struck as a bus rammed into the truck before the tow truck arrived.

In response to inquiries, a spokesman for the Transport Department (TD) said on Tuesday that it is understood that the site where the accident happened was covered by a CCTV system installed at the tunnel.

However, the control room of the company did not switch on an overhead warning sign and dispatch a recovery vehicle to the scene until the tunnel company was informed by a citizen that a truck had stopped at the accident scene.

Asked if there was dereliction of duty on the part of the tunnel company, the spokesman, who said there is no blind spot in the accident scene, said the TD on Monday asked the company for a detailed report, and added that the department will scrutinize in detail whether the tunnel management firm had handled the incident according to the established procedures.

The TD spokesman said that if any lapse is uncovered during the process, the department will order the tunnel company to make improvements.

The department did not elaborate on any responsibility mechanism or possible punishment for the company if dereliction of duty is confirmed, the Hong Kong Economic Journal noted.

A spokesman for the tunnel company, meanwhile, told some reporters on Tuesday that the firm was informed by a citizen at around 10:12 am about the accident. He claimed that the control room switched the gantry light to red and also sent out a recovery vehicle to the scene within seven minutes. 

The chair of the Hong Kong Tunnel and Highway Employees' General Union pointed out that it is unimaginable that a broken-down car would remain stationary in the tunnel area without being moved for an hour.

He urged authorities to examine as to who decided to leave the lorry stranded, and also try to determine whether there was dereliction of duty on the part of anyone or if any person violated guidelines.

Saying the harbour crossing firm has a responsibility, Democratic Party lawmaker Andrew Wan Siu-kin said he will follow up on the matter with the Legislative Council's transport panel.

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