Officials have ordered the MTR Corporation to investigate and submit a report into its new signalling system’s latest glitches, which threaten to further delay Hong Kong’s costliest rail project.
The key upgrade was suspended on Friday on the eve of its launch after a technical malfunction on the East Rail line uncovered an issue that might cause a train to deviate from its intended course and follow the route of a previous service to the wrong station.
The major MTR route is to join up with the Tuen Ma line to complete the Sha Tin-Central link – the biggest rail project by cost ever undertaken in the city and one designed to ease pressure on roads and the East Rail, Kwun Tong and Tsuen Wan lines.
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But the link’s price tag has soared to HK$90.7 billion (US$11.7 billion) so far, after suffering repeated delays and cost overruns.
Offering a new timeline of events surrounding the fresh glitches, the government said it was informed on Thursday of the signalling issues affecting the East Rail line, which currently connects Hung Hom with Lo Wu and Lok Ma Chau, near the border with mainland China.
Officials said the impact on the target date for opening the East Rail line’s Hung Hom to Admiralty cross-harbour extension was now unclear until the MTR Corp provided more information.
The completion of that section had already been pushed back from the fourth quarter of 2021 to the first of 2022.
“We have requested [the MTR Corp] to submit an investigation report and conduct further review and testing to ensure safety and reliability of the new signalling system and prevent such abnormal conditions from happening,” the Electrical and Mechanical Services Department said in a statement.
The department said the Tuen Ma line, which connects the West Rail and expanded Ma On Shan lines, was unaffected and still due to open in full during the third quarter of 2021.
The entire Sha Tin-Central link is due for completion in 2022.
Saturday was to be the launch day of the new signalling system and would mark the start of the introduction over 18 months of shorter trains, as part of a multibillion-dollar expansion of the city’s rail network.
The MTR Corp revealed on Friday that the ongoing signalling upgrade would be postponed indefinitely until the issues were resolved.
Under the existing signalling system on the East Rail line, services have to be spread out in accordance with the outdated technology for tracking trains using beacons. The new Siemens system traces trains in real-time, allowing the MTR Corp to operate more trains.
The upgrade would allow a maximum of 32 trains per hour to serve the route, up from just 19 at present.
Ex-railway chief and lawmaker Michael Tien said he believed the signalling problems were not a safety issue, but could lead to trains arriving at the wrong destination.
“The computer needs a lot of data to make a command and it failed to direct the train to an altered destination,” Tien said.
He expected the problem to be fixed by a software rewrite by Siemens, adding he did not think it would delay the opening of the Sha Tin-Central link.
Additional reporting by Christy Leung
More from South China Morning Post:
- Hong Kong’s rail operator faces setback after new signalling system assigns wrong route to train on East Rail line
- Hong Kong rail operator MTR Corporation to investigate near miss between train and maintenance workers