Hong Kong’s commuters may enjoy normal train services from next Monday after almost two months – if no major destruction or vandalism takes place at MTR stations in the coming weekend.
Senior officials of the MTR Corporation met rail union leaders on Thursday and delivered the message that normal train services, ending at about 1am every day, may resume from Monday.
“After the district council elections last Sunday, the situation has calmed down a bit. If there is no further vandalism or major damage to the metro station facilities, the management expects to resume normal train services from Monday,” Hong Kong Federation of Railway Trade Unions vice-chairman Tam Kin-chiu told the Post.
“But if further rampaging takes place at the stations, the MTR Corp will be forced to impose early closures any time,” he warned.
Since people have already expressed their stance in the district council elections, I hope the protesters will now become rational and stop attacking the MTR stations. Early train closures have really caused great inconvenience to passengers
Tam Kin-chiu, vice-chairman, Hong Kong Federation of Railway Trade Unions
Stations have closed early since the beginning of October in the face of a vandalism campaign by anti-government protesters. Radicals turned their destructive fury on the railway giant, accusing it of bowing to Beijing and colluding with police. They have trashed its stations, set fire to – and thrown petrol bombs at – entrances, spray-painted graffiti on walls, and hurled objects onto tracks.
When the government put a mask ban into effect on October 5, rampaging mobs forced a shutdown of the entire rail network for the first time in its 40-year history. For almost the entire month of October and November, the rail operator was forced to close its stations early every day to allow time to fix damaged facilities. Some critics branded this move as a “de facto curfew” imposed on the city.
As of November 20, radicals caused extensive damage to 85 of 94 heavy rail stations and 62 of 68 light rail stations. More than 1,800 turnstiles, 1,100 ticketing and top-up machines, 1,200 surveillance cameras, 170 lifts and escalators, as well as 180 roller shutters, were damaged.
The rail operator said the damage to University station was so severe that it would require works on a scale similar to rebuilding the whole station.
Early service closures also caused the MTR’s domestic ridership numbers to nosedive to just over 108 million for October, down 25.5 per cent year on year and a new low since April 2012.
As to whether the rail operator could provide an overnight service on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve, Tam said it would depend on the situation at that time.
In September, the MTR scrapped overnight services during the Mid-Autumn Festival for the first time, citing safety concerns amid escalating protest violence.
“Since people have already expressed their stance in the district council elections, I hope the protesters will now become rational and stop attacking the MTR stations. Early train closures have really caused great inconvenience to passengers,” he said.
An MTR spokeswoman said they had been regularly reviewing the progress of repair works on the damaged facilities and conducting risk assessments to resume normal services at the earliest. “When we have an update about the train services, we’ll inform the public as early as possible,” she said.
In a Legislative Council paper issued on Friday, the rail operator said the vandalism of its facilities had cost it hundreds of millions of Hong Kong dollars for repairs.
“These unlawful acts not only caused much inconvenience to passengers because of the damage to the facilities and the need to close stations, they have also drained the energy of the MTR Corp’s frontline and maintenance staff. They also cost the MTR hundreds of millions of dollars for repairs and replacement,” it said.