Snapped ca­bles halt MTR lines for 5 hours

Frus­trated pas­sen­gers wait in long queues en­dur­ing mis­er­able weather

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - FRONT PAGE - By KAHON CHAN in Hong Kong kahon@chi­nadai­lyhk.com

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.

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