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






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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