【明報專訊】THE independent commission of inquiry on the construction problems of Hung Hom station of the Sha Tin-Central Link has submitted an interim report in which it is stated that the diaphragm walls and the platform slabs are safe and the shortening of steel bars was an isolated and sporadic incident. The conclusion of the report jars with what many people think has happened. Whether the platform of Hung Hom station is safe or not, we can only trust the experts. The problem is the experts are not unanimous in their opinions. We should not approach the result of the independent investigation the way a bad loser does. However, what confuses the public is why the construction works are "safe" even though they are plagued with irregularities; what the definition of "safe" is and how we should conceive it; why the commission has reached a conclusion before the inspection of the steel bars is completed.
Every expert adheres to their own opinion about the construction problems of Hung Hom station and the public does not know who to believe. A few years ago, the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link (XRL) Project suffered from delays and serious cost overruns. Justice Michael Hartmann was appointed by the government then to head a commission to conduct an independent investigation. He is familiar with his current task since this is the second time he has taken up this role. While one should not speculate whether the commission is independent and just, the public is definitely filled with doubts about the commission's conclusion that "Hung Hom station is structurally safe".
An examination of the platform at Hung Hom station by opening up the concrete to examine the steel bars is still underway. As for the test on the strength of the couplers conducted by the MTR, there has not been a conclusion yet. It is inevitable that the public wants to know why the commission does not wait for the result of the examination of the steel bars before publishing its report.
Another issue that baffles the public is why the construction works at Hung Hom station are considered safe even though there were so many irregularities. For example, the report quotes an expert witness who thinks that the changes made to the design of the top of the diaphragm walls were better and that the bottom layer of the steel bars of the platform slabs was not necessary. On hearing this, it is natural for the public to ask why these requirements were in the original design. Is the design of the coupler connections "superfluous" or is it an "extra layer of security"? If it is safe even without following the guidelines, why then should the industry abide by the guidelines? The public also wants to know if "structurally safe" means that the loading capacity of the platform is the same as that in the original design, or that it has actually been compromised but there will probably be no accidents under normal circumstances.
According to the MTR senior management, the construction of the platforms of the Sha Tin-Central Link was completed over two years ago, and the trial operation has gone on for a few months. They believe that the overall structure of the platform is safe. However, what the public is concerned about is the long-term safety and durability of the platform. If the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge can withstand 7.0-magnitude earthquakes and the lifespan of the concrete is as long as 120 years, what about Hung Hom station? Apart from safety, integrity and quality are also important to any construction work. It is obvious that Hung Hom station was not built in accordance with specifications of the original design. The government must investigate thoroughly to find out who should be held accountable. According to the interim report, the platform does not need to be strengthened. It is proposed that devices be installed to monitor the extent of the movement of the station. The interim report is probably not enough to ease the misgivings of the public. It takes time to rebuild public confidence. The government and the MTR have to adopt vigorous measures to reinforce public trust.
jar (with sth) : to be different from sth in a strange or unpleasant way
plague sb/sth (with sth) : to cause pain or trouble to sb/sth over a period of time
baffle : to confuse