More subsidence problems have been discovered at the site of a new station on Hong Kong’s most expensive rail project, as lawmakers considered invoking special powers to conduct a thorough probe into the construction scandal.
The Water Supplies Department said “angular distortion” had been found in pipes around the Exhibition Centre station site a day after the rail giant was forced to suspend all excavation work at the stop on the beleaguered Sha Tin-Central Link.
Engineers said the pipes would have been bent by soil movements at the Wan Chai construction site.
The government said there had been no cracks in, or leakage from, the pipes. It added the distortion did not go beyond an alarming level and that it would monitor the subsidence data submitted by the MTR.
The discovery capped off a bad week for the rail operator. On Tuesday, officials said they had lost faith in those in charge of the project, calling for heads to roll. Four senior managers of the project resigned while CEO Lincoln Leong Kwok-kuen would step down earlier than expected.
The government had said it found contradicting evidence in the company’s reports over substandard work on the HK$97.1 billion (US$12 billion) project, centred on workers cutting corners in the construction of a site at the expanded Hung Hom station of the link, and wall designs not adhering to approved plans.
The fallout continued on Wednesday and Friday after it emerged areas around two new stations on the line, including Exhibition, might have sunk beyond an acceptable level, sparking safety concerns.
On Saturday, engineering sector lawmaker Lo Wai-kwok said he would not rule out invoking the Powers and Privileges Ordinance to investigate the problems plaguing the line, but added that the government and police were also looking into the matter, and Legco follow-ups usually take longer.
“The case is complicated, so the time needed would be long. I think [we don’t need to rush yet],” said
Lo, who is also chairman of political party the Business and Professionals Alliance for Hong Kong.
Pan-democrats in Legco said lawmakers should invoke the Powers and Privileges Ordinance to investigate the matter but, to do so, support from both the geographical and functional constituencies would be needed.
The pro-establishment camp had earlier blocked such a move over an investigation into shortened steel bars at Hung Hom station, part of a raft of problems that have surfaced for the company in recent months.
On Saturday, Civic Party lawmaker Tanya Chan disagreed with Lo’s suggestion not to rush into a Legco inquiry, questioning when the pro-establishment camp would support their rivals’ call.
“If we don’t do it now, then it will never end,” she said. “We should not take away our own powers.”
On the subsidence issues, Chan blasted the government and the MTR Corp for what she said was mishandling and negligence of procedures.
She said the MTR Corp had not disclosed more information on the sinking cases at the two stations.
“They said the situation had stabilised. But are [the areas] still sinking beyond acceptable limits?”
But Lo said even if the areas sank beyond what was allowed, it did not necessarily mean there were safety issues. He said the standards in place were extremely strict.
Lo added that the Buildings Department had promised to pay attention to the case and offer help to residents with questions.
To allay public concerns, Chan called for the rail giant to disclose all the data related to subsidence cases across MTR projects, including areas affected by the HK$84.4 billion high-speed rail to Guangzhou, which is expected to open in September.
Separately on Friday, some members from the Hong Kong Institution of Engineers sent a joint open letter to MTR projects director Philco Wong Nai-keung – one of the four project members who resigned – calling for him to step down as president amid concerns over public perception of his role in the scandal.
The bid was in contrast to an earlier move on Thursday, in which the group – which represents the engineering profession in the city – said Wong had sent an email to members reaffirming his presidency with the institute.
The institution, which refrained from commenting on the MTR problems, had also said its former and current leaders supported Wong. It only added that members found to be dishonest or involved in fraud would be punished accordingly.