Editorial : Another disastrous moment for the MTR

【明報專訊】DEFECTS in the signaling systems for the MTR's four rail lines resulted in total traffic chaos across Hong Kong. With the disruptions to rail services on the East Rail Line, which lasted for the better part of the day after super typhoon Mangkhut had battered Hong Kong, still fresh in public memory, Hong Kong people could not have foreseen that they would once again be troubled by an MTR incident after just a month.

The latest disruptions lasted nearly six hours, involving the Tsuen Wan, Kwun Tong, Island and Cheung Kwan O lines. That the first three of the lines mentioned before broke down simultaneously is unprecedented. In the past the MTR stressed from time to time that Hong Kong's railway transportation was highly efficient with frequent arrivals of trains, so much so it was better than many world-class cities' subway systems. However, the repeated occurrence of disastrous incidents such as what has just happened, as well as problems plaguing the Shatin to Central Link, has significantly eroded public confidence in the MTR. In recent years, whenever any major incident happened to the MTR (an example being the 10-hour disruptions to Kwun Tong line services in August last year), the MTR management employed a three-pronged PR strategy invariably: 1. An apology to citizens; 2. An explanation laden with technical terms to stress that the incident was "extraordinary and peculiar"; 3. The MTR would fully investigate the matter. As the latest incident involved the breakdown of four rail lines, the MTR has employed not only the above strategy but also one more thing: a 50% discount on rides on a day that has yet to be decided to "thank passengers for their support and understanding".

Many affected passengers are in fact fuming. They know very well whether they truly "support" or "understand" the MTR. What is certain is that the MTR's three-pronged strategy has become increasingly powerless in the face of repeated incidents in recent years. In the latest incident, service levels on many rail lines dropped to merely 20%, which was a very significant matter indeed. The MTR management, however, merely described the incident as "unsatisfactory", giving people the impression that it was trying to play down the severity of the incident. Citizens do not want any more excuses. Nor do they want to see formulaic apologies become the norm. It would be wishful thinking to think that citizens can be placated by small favours.

The MTR says that it is still investigating the cause of the incident, at the same time disclosing that before the Tsuen Wan line broke down the signaling system had been replaced and a trial run had been performed. Owing to ageing, the signaling systems on many MTR lines have reached their limits, and have to be replaced one after another. The signaling system on the Tsuen Wan line was the first to be replaced. People with knowledge of the matter have said that when the new signaling system for trains was being tested on the Tsuen Wan line, the old system had to be shut down temporarily. The incident could have been the result of a failure to relaunch the old system. As the signaling systems on all rail lines are linked to a certain extent, a domino effect ensued, causing a complete breakdown across all lines. It is difficult for those on the outside to determine whether such a theory implies that the incident involved programme errors as well as human errors. However, even if those were the cause, the management will still have to shoulder a large share of responsibility for the incident and cannot possibly shift the blame onto frontline staff.

The managerial hierarchy of the MTR is no longer able to support the whole business kingdom of the MTR effectively. It is necessary for the government to shake up the MTR management and strengthen the government's leadership. It should also make the MTR hive off its subsidiary businesses so that it can get back to basics and concentrate on serving the citizens, which should be its original obligation.

明報社評2018.10.17:當港鐵成為災難 政府應當怎麼辦







laden with : having a lot of a particular quality, thing etc

fume : to be very angry about sth

play down : If you play down sth, you try to make people believe that it is not particularly important.

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