Cross-harbour section of Hong Kong’s most expensive rail project delayed further, with MTR Corporation blaming radicals for vandalism of East Rail line

Cannix Yau

The cross-harbour section of Hong Kong’s most expensive rail project will be further delayed until the first quarter of 2022 as vandalism of another line by radical protesters has hindered work, according to the city’s embattled MTR Corporation.

In a Legislative Council paper issued on Wednesday, the rail giant estimated the Hung Hom-Admiralty section of the scandal-hit Sha Tin-Central rail link would be delayed from the previously revised fourth quarter of 2021.

The MTR Corp said the further delay was caused by persistent vandalism to facilities on the East Rail line – which serves part of the HK$99.1 billion link – during the months-long anti-government protests.

“Since October, East Rail line facilities have been damaged repeatedly, resulting in the cancellation of the rail link’s construction during non-service hours. Because of this, our project team has been unable to conduct scheduled tests on the East Rail line’s new signalling system,” it said, adding that it also hindered railway connection work and the replacement of trains.

A construction scandal at Hung Hom station previously delayed work. Photo: Winson Wong

“The MTR Corp estimates that the Hung Hom-Admiralty section’s opening will need to be delayed to the first quarter of 2022.”

The company said the link’s newly installed signalling system and electrical facilities had suffered severe damage, with about 4km affected.

“The MTR Corp needs to purchase more parts to replace the damaged facilities and conduct the tests again,” it said.

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“We are still making an overall assessment of the impact on the Sha Tin-Central link project.”

It said the Highways Department estimated the rail operator might need more time to complete the remaining construction. “The department is now in discussions with the MTR Corp about speeding up some major construction processes,” the firm said.

Pro-government lawmaker Michael Tien Puk-sun said it would be possible for the cross-harbour section to begin operating within 2021, should vandalism against railway facilities and signalling equipment stop immediately.

But Tien, former chairman of the Kowloon-Canton Railway Corporation, said the MTR had played safe and set the opening date in 2022.

“It seems the matter is in the hands of a handful of violent protesters,” Tien said. “So long as there is destruction, [the MTR Corp] will delay it further.”

Hong Kong has been rocked by social unrest since June, sparked by the now-withdrawn extradition bill. Radicals have targeted the rail giant, believing it has colluded with police and bowed to pressure from Beijing by shutting stations during protests, among other things.

As of November 24, radicals had caused extensive damage to 85 of 94 rail stations and 62 of 68 Light Rail stops. More than 1,900 turnstiles, 1,100 ticketing and top-up machines, 1,200 surveillance cameras, 202 lifts and escalators, as well as 190 roller shutters were damaged. Some 54 heavy railway trains and 16 Light Rail vehicles had also been damaged.

Commuters are forced to walk after trains are stopped by objects thrown on the tracks. Photo: Winson Wong

The rail operator said damage to University station was so severe it would require work on a scale similar to rebuilding it completely.

It said vandalism of its facilities had cost hundreds of millions of dollars to repair.

As to the partial opening of the first part of the link – from Tai Wai to Kai Tak – the firm said the section was undergoing a trial run and it aimed to open it in the first quarter of 2020 as scheduled.

The first section had been expected to open in the middle of 2019, after the original target of December 2018 was pushed back by construction delays. Later, due to a construction scandal involving shoddy work at Hung Hom station, the section was further delayed to the end of 2021.

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