Hong Kong’s troubled rail operator has been forced to suspend all excavation work at a new station for its scandal-plagued Sha Tin-Central Link due to areas around the construction site sinking beyond acceptable levels.
The MTR Corporation was ordered by the government on Friday to immediately stop digging because of subsidence recorded at multiple monitoring points around the future Exhibition Centre station in Wan Chai, the second stop on the line to be hit by such problems.
“To ease public concerns and under the principle of safety first, we think it is more appropriate to suspend all excavation work at the station,” MTR Corp managing director Jacob Kam Chak-pui said.
Kam insisted this did not mean there was any danger. Rather, it was aimed at easing public concerns as well as giving the railway giant time to review and verify all the relevant data, while making sure nearby facilities were safe, he said.
But he would not confirm media reports citing internal company documents that unacceptable levels of subsidence had been recorded in 14 areas around the Wan Chai site.
Kam could not say when excavation work would resume, or if the suspension would delay the opening of the HK$97.1 billion project. The Tai Wai to Hung Hom section of the new line is scheduled for completion in mid-2019 and the cross-harbour part connecting to Admiralty is expected to be ready in 2021.
The MTR Corp had ordered Leighton Contractors (Asia) to suspend work at part of the Exhibition Centre station earlier this year amid concerns about insufficient underground support work, but the contractor refused. It later rectified the work.
The MTR Corp will also look into setting up a new notification system with the government, which owns 75 per cent of the company. This will keep the public better informed about how subsidence problems are being dealt with as and when they arise.
Kam refused to disclose details of subsidence cases discovered so far, insisting all the data collected would have to be assessed first. On Thursday, the MTR Corp dismissed public safety concerns over a similar problem at another new station in To Kwa Wan.
It admitted buildings and utility pipes in the surrounding areas had sunk beyond statutory limits, but insisted “the tilting ratios of the buildings have all along met the set requirements so the works can continue in a safe manner”.
The company also promised to help residents affected by construction work. Those seeking information could call the project hotline, and engineering staff as well as workers for the contractors would be sent to their buildings to carry out professional inspections, Kam said.
This came after a district councillor complained on Friday that none of the more than 100 residents with homes affected by the To Kwa Wan construction work had been successful in securing compensation.
Residents have raised the alarm over shaking buildings and cracks in their homes.
Pro-establishment lawmaker Michael Tien Puk-sun, who chairs the Legislative Council panel monitoring railway matters, suggested the government consider stepping in and changing the current contractor to restore public confidence.
“While most of the work at Hung Hom station is done, the Wan Chai part is still in the early excavation work stage,” Tien said.
“Must the government let Leighton continue? Or can the work be given to other contractors? It seems the public has lost confidence in it.”
Civic Party lawmaker Tanya Chan said the MTR Corp’s response was “lip service” because it had yet to reveal details of the subsidence data collected so far.
“After all these questions raised by the media, they are still not forthcoming, and now they want to wait until the new notification system is set up,” she said.
A slew of media revelations about cases of substandard construction work and unauthorised design changes at the Hung Hom station prompted the government to demand heads roll among those in charge of the troubled project.
Police have also been called in to investigate “huge discrepancies” and “conflicting reports” about what went wrong.
Four senior managers left the company immediately while the CEO is due for early retirement.