Hong Kong’s MTR was hit by a fresh service disruption on Wednesday morning after the emergency door of a train on the Island line was pushed open, with passengers leaving the halted train in the middle of a tunnel.
The disruption, which occurred between Chai Wan and Heng Fa Chuen stations, came after a group of anti-government protesters declared on Tuesday night that they were ending their non-cooperation movement, which had seen train services on major lines blocked on numerous occasions over the past month.
The incident, which the rail operator described as “major”, happened at around 11.30am when a passenger pulled the emergency door release on the end carriage and pushed the door open, according to Tam Kin-chiu, vice-chairman of the Hong Kong Federation of Railway Trade Unions. He said the service was suspended for about an hour.
“As far as we know, someone pushed open the door and some passengers intentionally left the train and walked on the tracks. Rail staff had to seal off the affected section, and inspect the scene to see if there were any passengers left in the tunnel,” he told the Post.
The rail company later said that the westbound train had stopped at 11.30am on its way to Heng Fa Chuen due to problems with the power supply, which passengers were notified of via public address announcements.
“After about 10 minutes, when the driver was conducting final tests to resume service, he noticed a signal showing that the emergency door at the end of the train was open,” it said.
The firm said that when train staff arrived on the scene they saw about seven passengers walking on the tracks so they helped them return to the station platform.
“For reasons of security, during the period of disruption the Island line service ran only between Heng Fa Chuen and Kennedy Town. The service finally resumed as normal after 12pm,” it said.
The rail operator called on passengers not to open emergency doors in non-emergency situations and to refrain from encroaching on the tracks.
Tam said MTR management were shocked by the incident and were taking it very seriously as pushing open the emergency door of a moving train was highly dangerous.
“The top management are highly concerned by the incident as it put passengers’ safety at risk. When the door is pushed open when the train is moving, the train will automatically pull on the brakes, which will cause heavy jolts, possibly causing injuries to passengers,” he said.
Tam suspected the disruption was caused by protesters, and called on people not to interfere with emergency doors on trains, and not to walk onto the tracks.
“It is highly dangerous to walk on the tracks inside the tunnel, which is very dark. There are a lot of hidden holes, with cables and electrical circuits installed around the rails. There is also a risk of encountering other trains as the tracks can be intersections for different routes,” he said.
Meanwhile, MTR Corp chairman Rex Auyeung Pak-kuen issued his first communique to staff since he stepped into the hot seat in July, expressing thanks for their hard work and professionalism during trying times when Hong Kong has been hit by escalating protests and violent clashes between demonstrators and police.
“Hong Kong has seen ongoing large-scale public activities over the past 60 days, posing unprecedented challenges to our railway and property operations, as well as all our supporting departments.
“The Board would like to express its sincere appreciation to all of you who have gone the extra mile during these difficult times,” he said in a company email.
However, some 700 train staff signed a petition to the rail operator on Wednesday, calling for the MTR Corp to condemn police for the use of force such as tear gas, rubber bullets or pepper balls at MTR stations, which endangered the safety of staff and passengers.
Wong Ching-wang, the petition’s spokesman, said frontline staff were very concerned about their safety because, on numerous occasions, the police had taken enforcement action at stations without notifying MTR staff.
“We all think the MTR has been very passive in response to the police actions. We call for the company to take a tougher stance against police to ensure our safety, like asking police to refrain from using tear gas and other weapons at MTR stations,” he said.
He said if the company failed to give them a proper public reply before Friday, they might consider citing reasons of safety to refuse to fulfil their duties.