Hong Kong’s railway staff union warns some MTR stations cannot survive further vandalism by anti-government protesters

Denise Tsang

Hong Kong’s leader met transport operators on Monday to discuss escalating vandalism by anti-government protesters, even as the city’s rail operator warned that some stations had been so frequently damaged by rampaging mobs that they might not be able to survive further damage.

A day after radicals wreaked havoc at Central MTR station, trashing the facilities and setting one entrance ablaze, senior officials from the rail operator gave Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor and transport chief Frank Chan Fan a first hand look at the damage and repair work.

With more than 40 per cent of the city’s 91 train stations damaged, the union representing MTR Corporation employees said they could not keep up with repair work at the rate protesters were causing destruction.

Hong Kong Federation of Railway Trade Unions vice-chairman Tam Kin-chiu appealed for an end to violent protests and chaos at MTR stations.

Our colleagues are exhausted and very discouraged as we are in a cycle of damage, repair and damage again

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

“Our colleagues are exhausted and very discouraged as we are in a cycle of damage, repair and damage again,” he said. “We restore the impaired facilities with components we take from equipment in unharmed stations, but we will soon run out of parts.

“For some stations like Prince Edward, Mong Kok and Yau Ma Tei, which protesters have repeatedly vandalised every time we’ve repaired them, we are not sure if they will survive another round of massive damage.”

Transport minister Chan and the top three MTR officials – chairman Rex Auyeung Pak-kuen, CEO Jacob Kam Chak-pui and operations director Adi Lau Tin-shing – also inspected Wan Chai station, which was trashed during Sunday’s violent protests.

“We came to take a look at the facilities and to raise the morale of MTR staff, who worked overnight to restore facilities and services,” Chan said, as passers-by shouted obscenities and slogans at them.

“Protesters should respect commuters’ rights,” he added.

A protester breaks glass at a Central MTR station entrance on Sunday. Photo: Sam Tsang

Auyeung, appearing in public for the first time since the MTR became a regular target of protesters, appealed to demonstrators to respect the metro system, which is used daily by 5.4 million people.

“The rail system is the pride of Hong Kong, which we should treasure,” he said.

The city’s embattled leader also discussed measures being taken to deal with protest violence and disruptions with Commissioner of Police Stephen Lo Wai-chung, MTR officials, Airport Authority chairman Jack So Chak-kwong and the authority’s CEO, Fred Lam Tin-fuk.

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Central, Wan Chai, Mong Kok and Prince Edward stations had to be shut down on Sunday after violent mobs attacked them following a peaceful mass rally in the Central business district. Rod-wielding radicals broke glass windows inside and outside the stations and vandalised ticketing machines.

At Central station, some started a large fire at a ground-level entrance near the Mandarin Oriental luxury hotel.

At Wan Chai station on Monday, damaged turnstile displays caused confusion at times for passengers who could not see the cost of their journeys deducted from their stored-value Octopus cards. All gates were functional, although an add-value machine and some television screens were still out of order at noon.

Some of the damage caused by protesters at Admiralty station on Sunday. Photo: K.Y. Cheng

Police announced on Monday that they had arrested 157 people – aged between 14 and 63 – over the weekend for offences including station vandalism.

They also revealed that they had finally obtained the medical records of a young woman who suffered a severe eye injury during a violent protest last month, despite her attempts to block the move.

Protesters have painted a target on the MTR after the railway operator started calling police to remove them from its premises during rowdy and violent demonstrations, and closing stations in advance to avoid chaos and vandalism.

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The operator started taking action after it was accused by mainland Chinese state media of not only allowing protesters to use stations as staging points to attack police but also providing them with free rides to escape.

Rampaging groups armed with metal rods have smashed CCTV cameras, Octopus card readers, ticketing machines, glass doors, turnstiles and station control rooms. They have frequently grabbed fire extinguishers and set them off in the premises when confronting police or fighting with other commuters.

Protesters start a fire at a Central MTR station entrance on Pedder Street in Central on Sunday. Photo: Edmond So

Tam said thousands of MTR staff had been mobilised to repair ruined facilities overnight, but many were battered beyond repair. Routine and scheduled maintenance works were being put on hold to deal with immediate repairs to keep stations operations running.

He said facilities of the MTR’s light rail system serving Yuen Long, Tin Shui Wai and Tuen Mun were also badly damaged. More than half of the 68 stations had Octopus card readers destroyed and top-up machines smashed.

“We have complaints from students who were late for school in the past week as a result of insufficient Octopus card readers at light rail stations,” he said.

Police given medical records of woman injured in eye during protest

China’s official state news agency, Xinhua, condemned the weekend violence at MTR stations.

“Astonishingly, there are still people in Hong Kong society who are exceptionally tolerant towards violence and refuse to cut ties with the violent protesters,” it said.

“In reality, this kind of mentality has fuelled the aggressiveness of those mobs, and given them a false feeling that the whole of society will support or accept their so-called ‘resistance’ and continue to live in a self-beautifying illusion.”

Additional reporting by Kristin Huang

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