Snapped cables halt MTR lines for 5 hours
Frustrated passengers wait in long queues enduring miserable weather
Hundreds of thousands of commuters were stranded in long queues for five hours in cold weather on Monday after a section of overhead cable near the Yau Tong MTR Station snapped. This led to service suspension of the entire Tseung Kwan O Line and part of Kwun Tong Line on Monday afternoon.
The MTR network returned to full schedule before 6 pm, just in time for the late afternoon peak hour. According to an agreement signed with the government in April, the MTR will face a heavy fine of HK$7.5 million for the fivehour disruption if it proves to be the operator’s fault.
Th e cause was not known on Monday, but Secretary for Transport and Housing Anthony Cheung Bing-leung said the incident was unusual and the rail operator would submit a preliminary report to the Transport Department within three days.
The drama began around 12: 50 pm when a 30- meter section of overhead power cable hung over the westbound Kwun Tong Line between Yau Tong and Tiu Keng Leng suddenly came loose. It was near a crossover switch which links to the parallel westbound track of the Tseung Kwan O Line.
Subsequently, passengers on the Kwun Tong Line train approaching Yau Tong Station heard three loud bangs, resembling explosions, and spotted smoke in the subway car. A passenger waiting for the incoming train on the platform of Yau Tong Station said he also heard the sound of a “snapped cable”.
Both trains running on the parallel tracks were brought to an abrupt stop in the tunnel, due to a drop in the power voltage. Passengers were evacuated at the emergency exit at the front of the rolling stock, which led them to the platform of Yau Tong Station along the tracks.
The fire service received a report of “explosion” at 12:54 pm and evacuated 150 passengers at the Yau Tong Station. At 1 pm, the MTR announced that the entire Tseung Kwan O Line was out of service, while the Kwun Tong Line service only terminated at Kwun Tong Station.
7.5 million HK dollar fine the MTR may face for the five-hour disruption if it proves to be the operator’s fault
Following an hour of confusion across the network, the contingency response began to kick in. Apart from ad- hoc shuttles, the Kwun Tong Line also ran through to North Point on the Hong Kong Island with the help of a track branch that became inactive after launching the Tseung Kwan O Line.
While most Kowloon commuters could cross the harbor via Kwun Tong, those trying to get in and out of Tseung Kwan O spent hours waiting at bus and taxi stops. In the cold and rain, over 6,000 passengers stood in a line which ran for kilometers to get onto the free shuttle.
Greater chaos was narrowly avoided after the MTR management announced a resumption of services at 5:35 pm, just in time to restore normal order for the evening peak hours. The operator had at one point said things would not be fixed until before 7:30 pm.
Anthony Cheung, who inspected the situation at Yau Tong Station around 7 pm, said he was told by the MTR management that despite reports by eyewitnesses, no actual explosion occurred — it was the sound of circuit breaker tripping — as verifi ed by government inspectors.
The MTR did the last annual inspection for the failed cable in end of October. Lo Kok-keung, an engineering expert of the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, said there could have been a maintenance omission if the anchor wires and screws which held the power cables in place failed.
Lawmakers were divided over handling of the incident. Jeff rey Lam Kin- fung of the Business and Professional Alliance said the MTR could have provided harbor-crossing shuttles in Tseung Kwan O. But former railway chief Michael Tien Puk- sun said he believed the response time had been acceptable.
The MTR Tseung Kwan O Line is the commuter lifeline for the satellite town, which is home to numerous public housing and middle-class housing estates. The line had suspended part of its service for three hours in January when a pair of screen doors at North Point caught fire.
Even though Monday’s incident might have affected thousands of people, it might not result in the heaviest fine the MTR pays for delays in 2013. A Light Rail car that derailed near the suburb of Hung Shui Kiu in May had caused an eight- hour delay, leading to a fine of HK$ 15 million.
The fines, according to the April agreement, will be reimbursed to all passengers as savings on same-day return rides. Adding to the settled fines of HK$4 million for two other incidents, passengers might enjoy savings of up to HK$26.5 million next year.