Probe panel deems MTR's Hung Hom works safe, but doubts remain

March 27, 2019 14:26
Chief Executive Carrie Lam, accompanied by Transport Secretary Frank Chan, said on Tuesday that an inquiry panel’s findings should assuage public concerns about the structural safety of MTR’s Hung Hom Station works. Photo: HKEJ

A panel that looked into allegations of shoddy construction work at Hung Hom Station for the Shatin-Central Link (SCL) rail project has said in an interim report that it doesn't believe there are structural safety issues on the new platforms that warrant rebuilding or reinforcing some sections.

In an interim report on the issues surrounding MTR Corporation's upcoming rail line, the independent commission of inquiry has concluded that the platform structures are strong enough and that there is no need for large-scale remedial work.

The assurance, however, was greeted with skepticism by some outside experts and lawmakers, who wondered if the panel had been too hasty or arbitrary in reaching its conclusion, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reports.

On Tuesday, the government made public the interim report that was submitted last month by the "Commission of Inquiry into the Construction Works at and near the Hung Hom Station Extension under the Shatin to Central Link Project".

In the report that was submitted to Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor on Feb. 25, the inquiry panel-- which was chaired by Michael Hartmann, former non-permanent judge of the Court of Final Appeal -- determined that although the Hung Hom Station Extension diaphragm wall and platform slab construction works were not executed in accordance with the contract, they are safe and it is not necessary to rebuild or conduct strengthening works.

Commenting on the report, Lam, accompanied by Secretary for Transport and Housing Frank Chan Fan, said at a press conference Tuesday that the commission's determinations should assuage public concerns about the structural safety of the construction works.

That being said, Lam acknowledged, citing the commission, that the issue has not yet drawn to a full close since there are a number of ongoing collateral investigations and there remain extensive public concerns.

It is appropriate to exercise some caution, she said.

The chief executive accepted the advice of Chan and his colleagues that MTR should continue to implement its proposed holistic assessment strategy for the Hung Hom Station Extension.

Although the interim report concludes that the construction works are safe, the administration will still call for full accountability concerning the incident, Lam said.

The government will not pretend nothing had happened just because the interim report said the construction works are safe, she said.

Chan, meanwhile, told media that he has responsibility in relation to the incident and that he won't try to evade the duty.

Lam and Chan did not directly respond when asked if there has been a firm decision that strengthening works will not happen at the platforms in Hung Hom station.

According to the interim report, while construction of the east diaphragm wall at a rail platform had been changed without prior consent, the modification had no negative impact on the overall structure.

One can perhaps even argue that the change might have been for the good, the report suggested.

The commission believes there was trivial impact on the structure even though some rebars were not fully screwed into couplers.

Veteran civil engineer Ngai Hok-yan noted that the commission made definite determinations at a time when testing was still ongoing. Given the conclusions laid out in the report, it is unlikely that major rebuilding or improvement works will take place, he said.

Jason Poon Chuk-hung, managing director of China Technology Corporation, the subcontractor in charge of the Hung Hom station platform extension and seen as a “whistleblower” in the incident, said he does not see how authorities can hope to rebuild public confidence in the construction works.

The panel's conclusions that the platform slab and diaphragm wall are safe, and that no reinforcement is needed, were made too early, Poon said.

On Wednesday, Poon questioned the conclusions made by the panel in the interim report, saying China Technology Corp is now studying whether to file for a judicial review in relation to the works scandal.

Democratic Party lawmaker Lam Cheuk-ting expressed outrage at the report and criticized the panel.

How can the commission say the structure is safe, given the evidence that showed that records had gone missing and the structural work was not done as per original designs, Lam wondered.

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