英文

Editorial:Signalling fiasco recalls MTR's old problem

【明報專訊】THE MTR Corporation has put the launch of a new signalling system for the East Rail Line on hold at the last minute, raising much concern about its internal management, reporting mechanisms and the issue of MTR supervision. Safety is the most important thing for rail transport. As signalling systems are responsible for coordinating trains, they must be perfectly safe. The possibility of any train ''entering the wrong track'' following the signal command and requiring manual monitoring or other collision avoidance systems to ''remedy the situation'' is indeed unacceptable. However, the MTR Corp insists that the situation ''does not involve safety issues''. It was only after the government had learnt the situation just before the system's launch that the MTR Corp postponed the system's replacement at the eleventh hour. Not only is such treatment of the problem farcical, but it also gives the impression that the company is not being honest or open. The MTR Corp has been plagued with problems of internal management. Its untransparent culture has been criticised repeatedly. The latest incident inevitably invites doubts about whether it has learnt the lessons from the construction of the High-Speed Rail as well as the Shatin-Central link and whether it is determined to reform itself after those bitter lessons.

The new signalling system for the East Rail Line and the new trains with nine carriages were originally scheduled to start service last Saturday (September 12). Even at the beginning of this month, the MTR said that there had been more than six thousand trial runs and they had already obtained approval from the Electrical and Mechanical Services Department (EMSD) and the Transport Department (TD). But to everybody's surprise, the project was put on hold at the last minute. In the explanation it offered, the company said an ''unsatisfactory situation'' of route-setting and related monitoring arrangements had been discovered during the final test of the system. There is a possibility that a train may head for the wrong track and end up at the wrong station. Because the system needs to be ''enhanced'', the replacement of the system has to be postponed. Replacing a signalling system is a matter of great importance. Any ''unsatisfactory situation'' should be discovered and mended as early as possible. It is unreasonable to wait until the last moment before calling a halt, let alone the fact that the problem with the system was actually far beyond ''unsatisfactory''. Rather, it was something that should not have happened in the first place. The more the company tries to play down the problem, the more it appears to be papering over its fault.

A signalling system sets routes for the trains in accordance with the timetable. According to the EMSD, two days before the new system was to be launched, the department learnt that abnormal situations had occurred when the company tested the system's software. A route setting could be accidentally duplicated, which might result in a train ''going on the wrong track''. For example, a train originally bound for the Lok Ma Chau or the Racecourse station may end up following the route of a previous train into the wrong station. The MTR insists that its engineering team has only inferred such a possibility from an analysis of route setting performance. The actual possibility of its occurrence is ''extremely low''. It reiterates that in real tests no trains have entered the wrong station. Even if that happens, the trains are still safeguarded by the automatic train protection system. It emphasises that the issue has ''no impact on safety'' and so forth.

Safety and reliability are of the utmost importance for railway service. A single accident is enough to cause heavy casualties. However low the possibility of an error is, the error should be avoided with as much effort as possible. A signalling system that can potentially route a train ''on the wrong track and to the wrong station'' is already a big issue in itself. The MTR Corp must identify the crux of the problem and solve it thoroughly. Saying only that the system needs an ''enhancement'' is in essence an act of whitewashing. The company must investigate the problem thoroughly and give the public a clear explanation.

明報社評 2020.09.15:更換信號系統急煞停 港鐵老毛病依然故我

港鐵臨時煞停東鐵線新信號系統啟動計劃,內部管理、通報機制與監管問題再受關注。鐵路運輸安全至上,信號系統指揮列車,必須萬無一失。列車有可能因為信號指示「入錯線」、要靠人手監控或其他防撞系統「執漏」,情况令人難以接受;港鐵方面認為「沒有安全問題」,直到系統啟動前夕,政府知悉情况,港鐵「臨門一腳」才推遲更換系統,做法兒戲之餘,亦令人覺得港鐵沒有開誠布公。港鐵內部管理問題叢生,不透明文化屢惹詬病,今次事件難免叫人質疑,港鐵究竟有否汲取高鐵和沙中線工程等教訓,痛定思痛改革。

東鐵線新信號系統和新9卡車原定上周六(12日)運作,港鐵本月初才表示已演練逾6000次,上月底通過機電署和運輸署審批,未料計劃臨門一腳煞停。港鐵解釋,系統最後複檢時,在行車路線設定及相關管控安排方面,「發現不理想情况」,列車有可能行錯線入錯站,系統需要「優化」,所以暫緩更換計劃。更換信號系統事關重大,若有「不理想情况」,理應及早發現改善,沒理由等到最後一刻才叫停,何况新系統所出現的問題,豈止「不理想」,而是壓根兒不應該出現。港鐵愈輕描淡寫,愈令人覺得文過飾非。

信號系統按時間表設定行車路線,根據機電署說法,新系統原定啟用前兩天,署方得悉港鐵測試軟件期間曾經出現不正常情况,行車路線設定有可能意外重複、導致列車「行錯線」,例如原定前往落馬洲站或馬場站的列車,結果跟隨了上一列車行駛的路段,進入錯誤的車站。港鐵則強調,工程團隊只是基於行車路線設定表現的分析,推斷有此可能,發生的機率其實「極低」。港鐵再三重申,現實測試中沒有列車入錯站,就算真的出現這種情况,列車亦有自動保護系統,強調「不影響安全」,云云。

鐵路服務最重要是安全可靠,一次意外足以釀成重大傷亡,就算出錯機率再低,能夠避免便應盡力避免。信號系統有可能令列車「行錯線入錯站」,本身便是重大問題,港鐵必須找出癥結所在,將問題徹底解決,將之僅僅說成是需要「優化」,根本是淡化問題。港鐵有必要徹查問題所在,給公眾一個交代。

■Glossary(生字)

put sth on hold:to delay sth

plague / sb (with sth):to cause continual trouble or distress to sb

duplicate:do (sth) again unnecessarily

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