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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

港鐵4條路線信號系統出現故障,全港交通大混亂。超強颱風「山竹」襲港後東鐵線服務受阻大半天,公眾記憶猶新,未料短短一個月,港鐵又令市民飽受折騰。

今次港鐵大故障為時近6小時,涉及荃灣線、觀塘線、港島線及將軍澳線,前3條路線更是同時故障,史無前例。過去港鐵不時強調,本港鐵路運輸高效班次頻密,勝過很多世界級城市的地鐵系統,然而類似今次的「災難級」事故一再發生,加上沙中線等工程問題,已令市民對港鐵信心大打折扣。近年港鐵每逢出現重大事故,諸如去年8月觀塘線服務受阻10小時,管理層公關應對離不開三道板斧﹕1)向市民道歉;2)搬出一堆技術解釋,強調事件「罕有獨特」;3)港鐵將徹查檢討。今次4線大故障成災,港鐵除了重施故伎,還額外使出第4招﹕不日提供半價乘車優惠一天,「感謝乘客支持體諒」。

不少受影響乘客滿肚子氣,他們是否很「支持」或「體諒」港鐵,市民心裏有數,惟可以肯定的是,近年港鐵不時發生事故,港鐵的「安撫」三招愈益蒼白乏力。今次港鐵多線列車服務僅餘兩成服務能力,事態嚴重,港鐵管理層僅形容「情况不理想」,予人感覺是淡化問題。市民不想再聽藉口,亦不想見到公式化道歉成為常態,倘若港鐵以為小恩小惠便可給市民消消氣,未免想得太美。

港鐵表示事故原因仍在調查,同時透露荃灣線出事之前曾更換信號系統進行測試。港鐵多條路線信號系統老化,已達負荷上限,需要陸續更換,最先的是荃灣線。消息人士指出,荃灣線列車試用新信號系統期間,舊系統需要暫時關閉,今次出事原因,可能是測試完結後,未能重新啟動舊系統,由於各條線路信號系統一定程度互通,結果出現骨牌效應,全線崩塌。有關說法是否暗示事故涉及程序失誤人為出錯,外界暫難判斷,然而就算這是肇因,管理層也有很大責任,不能簡單歸咎前線人員。

港鐵管理架構已無力有效撐起整個商業王國,政府有必要整頓港鐵管理層,加強政府主導,同時分拆旁支業務,讓港鐵回歸基本,專注服務市民本業。

■Glossary

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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