Hong Kong MTR, hit by train collision, suffers second setback as woman falls on tracks at Kowloon Tong

Denise Tsang
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Hong Kong MTR, hit by train collision, suffers second setback as woman falls on tracks at Kowloon Tong

Hong Kong’s subway network, already slowed by a train crash overnight, suffered a further blow mid-morning Monday when a woman fell onto the track causing part of a second line to be suspended.

The second incident, at Kowloon Tong MTR station, meant trains were suspended for a while between Tai Wai and Mong Kok East stations, forcing commuters to map new routes to the city centre.

Police officers at the scene said the woman was injured and firefighters were trying to rescue her from under a train.

It was a second setback for the network that day. Commuters were earlier hit by the suspension of services on one line between two of the city’s busiest subway stations, after a train crash derailed a carriage.

One driver was reportedly injured during the smash, and services between Central and Admiralty stations on the Tsuen Wan line were down for all of Monday. Other MTR lines were still running as normal.

MTR confirms ‘unacceptable’ signal failure led to early morning crash

The rare incident took place near Central station at about 3am when a Tsuen Wan-bound train hit a Central-bound train at the crossover section during a trial run for a new signal system, according to a source. There were no passengers on board.

The drivers were sent to Queen Mary Hospital in Pok Fu Lam.

Photos released by the MTR Corp showed badly damaged train compartments with several doors unhinged, and shattered glass strewn across the carriage floor.

One train was seen tilted on its side and completely derailed.

The fire service said the first compartment of the Central-bound train, as well as the third and the fourth compartments of the Tsuen Wan-bound train, were damaged. Neither driver was trapped in the carriage and both left the scene with firefighters’ assistance.

A 31-year-old driver, surnamed Mok, injured his leg, while the other driver, a 24-year-old surnamed Chung, suffered from smoke inhalation, according to police.

Services between Tsim Sha Tsui and Tsuen Wan stations on the Tsuen Wan line were departing every 3½ minutes, the MTR Corporation said.

The MTR urged commuters heading to Central station to change at Admiralty for the Island line, or take alternative public transport.

The corporation’s chief of operating Alan Cheng Kwan-hing said the trains dealt glancing blows to each other, rather than crashing head-on.

“It was not a head-on collision,” he told a radio programme. “Our initial findings showed the trains sideswiped each other when they were travelling towards each other at the crossover junction ... I’ve never come across this kind of incident on the MTR.”

What we know about SelTrac, the signal system blamed for MTR crash

As far as we know, one train driver did follow the signals and when he detected something wrong he pushed the emergency button

Tam Kin-chiu, Hong Kong Federation of Railway Trade Unions vice-chairman

He added that repair staff needed to extricate the trains for examination and analysis, and could only decide in the evening whether to resume services on the Tsuen Wan line on Tuesday.

Adi Lau Tin-shing, operations director for the MTR Corp, said all trials would be suspended until the cause of the crash was investigated and pledged the new signal system would only come in after it passes all tests.

It would take a day to resume services because the undercarriage of one of the trains had derailed, he said.

Lau apologised for the inconvenience caused, adding the train operator would implement crowd safety measures on Monday if necessary. The corporation had informed the Transport Department once the accident happened, he said, to sort out transport arrangements between Admiralty and Central.

Hong Kong Federation of Railway Trade Unions vice-chairman Tam Kin-chiu said incidents like Monday’s were very rare and worrying, adding it was probably caused by a flaw in the signalling system.

“As far as we know, one train driver did follow the signals and when he detected something wrong he pushed the emergency button. We believe it’s probable the collision was caused by a signalling system flaw,” he said.

And Tam said it would not be the first signalling error this year.

“In February, a train in Tsuen Wan under testing of the signalling system reportedly drove through a stop light by 1.5 metres,” he said.

“At that time we already raised our concerns to the company, but it emphasised it had no cause for safety concerns. Now it seems that there is something wrong with the signalling system.”

“The MTR Corp needs to safeguard the safety of passengers and its staff,” he added.

Train crash may leave key link between Hong Kong stations closed until Tuesday

Lawmaker Michael Luk Chung-hung, vice-chairman of Legislative Council’s railways subcommittee, called on the MTR Corp to investigate the incident thoroughly. He also said it should make claims against Alstom-Thales DUAT JV, the joint venture contracted to install the new signalling system, worth about HK$3.3 billion (US$420 million).

“I feel very disappointed with the performance of this joint venture,” he said. “The MTR Corp needs to make compensation claims against this contractor. It also needs to make a full account of this collision to the railways subcommittee.”

The Tsuen Wan line was to be the first to get the new system under the deal signed in 2015, with six other lines – including the Airport Express line – to follow.

Many city residents were affected by rush hour delays stemming from the cancellations.

MTR passenger Wing Yuen, 28, who travelled from Mei Foo to Causeway Bay for work, said she took the Tung Chung line to change at Hong Kong station, instead of at Admiralty. She arrived work slightly after 9am.

“The walk is longer and there are more people, but it was mostly OK,” Yuen said. “I could squeeze in on the second train.”

And taxi driver Wong Tak-shing said traffic had been quite hectic as passengers ordered cabs to avoid the disruption.

He said it took about 20 minutes longer than usual to get from Kowloon to Hong Kong Island through the Western Harbour Tunnel.

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“The congestion is more serious than normal at this hour, but the passengers know about that so they said they left home earlier than usual,” he said.

Peter Yiu, 34, who took the 108 bus through the Cross-Harbour Tunnel from To Kwa Wan to Causeway Bay, said it took him about 10 to 15 minutes longer than usual to get to work due to the congestion, but said it was smoother than he had expected.

“I thought I could be late so I warned my boss, but as it ended up I am OK,” he said.

But Mr and Mrs Yan, from Nanjing, mainland China, were less happy. They condemned the MTR Corp for not being more clear with its instructions.

“We were told that no trains would take us to Central, but the announcement says we just have to switch to another train. So which one is it?” Mrs Yan exclaimed.

The pair were visiting the city for the first time and expressed disappointment over the incident.

“We’d heard that the MTR was quite convenient. Unfortunately this has happened,” Mrs Yang added.

Also scrambling for a route from Admiralty were Mr Lai and his friend, who were carrying four boxes.

“We picked the wrong day to move these boxes,” Lai said.

“We’re now going to travel to Sheung Wan and walk back to Central. The inconvenience has caused us to use inconvenient ways,” he said, shrugging his shoulders.

At about 9.30am at Central station, most of the commuters the Post spoke to said the suspension had not affected them much. Between 9.30am and 11am, trains towards Chai Wan – which go via Admiralty – came at intervals of about two minutes, and travellers mostly did not have to wait for the next train.

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