7th May 2013
<Underground Boring Causes Subsidence and Cracks in Tai Kok Tsui>
MTR has denied that the High-Speed Rail project has caused damage in buildings in Tai Kok Tsui. However, based on MTR’s internal documents, the company predicted that a number of buildings would face subsidence and established a number of emergency measures, including evacuation of residents and blocking off buildings. The second quarter of 2014, when the boring of the second tunnel begins, will be the critical period. Residents in Tai Kok Tsui who are affected worry about the ever widening cracks in their buildings.
The High-Speed Railway goes beneath Tai Kok Tsui. Two tunnels need to be bored underneath roads and numerous buildings. MTR’s internal evaluation report pointed out that when the second boring machine goes through Tai Kok Tsui, there is a possibility of a “crisis level incident”.
The evaluation report listed the three subsidence levels of the 44 buildings in Tai Kok Tsui which would be affected. If subsidence reaches the alert level, all work will be suspended within a 50 metre radius of the building. If any building safety issue arise, for example too much sedimentation or subsidence happens, residents will be evacuated and the area will be blocked off.
MTR said that the first tunnel passed Tai Kok Tsui successfully in December 2012. It is expected that the second tunnel will pass the area by the second quarter of 2014. At that time, MTR will regularly monitor the gap-meters and inspection spots set up at the buildings, to ensure the safety of the buildings and residents.
Mr. Wong Shun-kwong (phonetic translation), the Chairman of the Owners’ Corporation of Tai Kwei Building, one of the buildings that is most affected by the railway project, said that the cracks in the building only started to emerge after the High-Speed Rail boring began underneath the building. The cracks are widening up – they used to fit one HK$5 coin (approximately 3mm), but now they could fit two coins (around 6mm). Mrs Tam, one of the residents in the building, said “MTR sent someone to install gap-meters in our building at the beginning, but now no one cares about us”. She also said that the noise level increased again which makes it difficult for her to sleep. “I placed a mug in the middle of the table, and it moved as the ground shook (caused by the boring) and eventually fell off the table.”
Cracks began to show up at the junction of the East and West blocks in the 14-storey Chung Hing Building since October 2012. The cracks go from the ground floor all the way to the roof. Local residents said that the police recently blocked off Tai Tsun Street (right next to Chun Hing Building), and it was later on found out that this was because the street was “affected” by the High-Speed Rail construction work. A 10-meter long crack and a number of subsidence spots can be seen clearly in the middle of Tai Tsun Street.
7th May 2013
<Donald Tsang: Suspected to Have Received Order to Change Plans>
The original plan of the High-Speed Rail project suggests sharing the existing railway with the West Rail Line (the subway between Hung Hom in Kowloon Peninsula and Tuen Mun in the New Territories), which would mean that there would have been no need to remove the foundation piles at the Nam Cheong Station site. However, after Donald Tsang Yam-kuen attended a Hong Kong and Guangdong joint-conference, he suddenly announced a change of plan and a “dedicated railway”.
Met with Huang Huahua, Plan Changed Completely
Going through Legislative Council documents from 17th January 2006, the Executive Council approved the plan that the High-Speed Rail and West Rail Line to share the same railway. This strategy was based on the high risks and costs of building and operating a dedicated 30-mile-long tunnel for the High-Speed Railway: thus sharing the existing West Rail Line was viewed as the most prudent option.
In August 2007, Donald Tsang Yam-kuen, the then Chief Executive Hong Kong, attended the Hong Kong/Guangdong Cooperation Joint Conference. After meeting with Huang Huahua, the then Governor of the Guangdong Province, and other China officials, Tsang has changed his mind and announced that “(it is) decided that for the Hong Kong section (of the High-Speed Rail) a plan to build a ‘dedicated railway’ should be adopted”. As a norm the Chief Executive has to consult the Executive Council before making important decisions. However, the Executive Council did not approve the “dedicated railway” plan for the High-Speed Rail until 22nd April 2008 and said that the approval of the change of plan is due to the possibility of a substantial increase in High-Speed railway passengers: sharing West Rail Line’s railway would put too much burden on the system.
Wu Chi Wai, lawmaker from the Democratic Party, said that the incident sounded like Tsang was executing a political mission, “it sounded like Donald Tsang was executing an order. The pan-democrats have been raising this issue, but our voice has been ignored.” The Transport and Housing Bureau responded that it informed the Legislative Council in January 2007 that it would re-evaluate the passenger capacity, and the Chief Executive and the Executive Council were informed after the evaluation was completed.
7th May 2013
<Refuses to Provide Additional Funding, Pan-Democrats Urge Investigation>
After hearing about the severe delays and potential for substantial budget overruns in the High-Speed Rail project, Legislative Council members were shocked. They said that if the government asks for additional funding, they would demand an investigation and find out which groups are responsible. Meanwhile, pro-government lawmakers who voted for the original funding presented a united front and claimed that they would not comment until they look into the incident.
Emily Lau Wai-hing, the Chairperson of Democratic Party, exclaimed “Wow! (is the situation)This serious?” She said that if the project overruns budget substantially and additional funding is needed, investigations need to be carried out to find out who are responsible.
Pro-government Lawmakers Huddled Up
Alan Leong Ka-kit, Party Leader of Civic Party, said that before the project began the Hong Kong SAR government complained that opposition to the project had delayed it and obstructed the integration of Hong Kong and China, “now that the project is being delayed, it shows that the government’s proposal was not comprehensive and that they misled us all”.
Albert Chan Wai-yip, lawmaker from People’s Power, said “in the 90s, pro-Peking legislative council members scrutinised the government’s expenditure. After the handover in 1997, it seems like the government rides with a loose rein.” He also said that he will object if the government requests additional funding for the High-Speed Rail.
Cyd Ho Sau-lan from the Labour Party thinks that the Hong Kong SAR government has to take the majority of the responsibility for the delay, “Donald Tsang (last Chief Executive) and Eva Cheng Yu-wah (former Secretary for Transport and Housing) are of course responsible for this. CY Leung,(current Chief Executive) who was an Executive Council member (when this project was proposed), also has an undeniable responsibility.” Ho also said that she will object to any bill for additional funding.
Chan Kam-lam from the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong (DAB, a pro-Peking and pro-government party), who voted to support the original High-Speed Rail funding, said he needs to review relevant documents before making any comments. Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee from New People’s Party said “many projects overrun budgets nowadays, (this is because of) inflation!” She thinks that the government should be allowed to explain “to see if (the budget overrun is) reasonable”.
7th May 2013
<Anti High-Speed Rail Group’s “Prophecies” Coming to Fruition>
Three years ago, the Hong Kong SAR government obstinately pushed forward the High-Speed Rail project, triggering a massive wave of opposition. The opponents detailed many “prophecies” then, which are coming true now.
Leung Kwok-hung, lawmaker from League of Social Democrats, said that members of the legislature already warned that this “super expensive” High-Speed Rail project would push up future bid prices (of government projects), but the government insisted on pushing it forward, “we talked about all these before!” The current situation shows that the concerns then were legitimate. Ronny Tong Ka-wah, lawmaker from Civic Party, said that lawmakers had been questioning how would the Hong Kong SAR government implement the “co-location of two places’ customs and immigration facilities at one point (one-point-two-checks)”. “Eva Cheng Yu-wah only kept repeating that (the government) would study the matter. There has been no specific plan and timeline. The government is still studying (how to implement)”. Tong added that the Basic Law states that China’s law enforcement units cannot enforce their laws in Hong Kong. Therefore a High-Speed Rail passenger will have to disembark at the Hong Kong border and go through immigration (before entering China), “hence, the so-called High-Speed Rail is only a little bit faster than the existing MTR”.
Chu Hoi-dick, member of the Anti-High Speed Rail League, criticized that the Hong Kong SAR government was instructed by its ultimate boss (China government) and rushed to begin the High-Speed Rail project which led to many problems, including the empty floor at the West Kowloon Terminus for “one-point-two-checks” purpose, “now the entire floor is vacant and cannot be used”. He urges the legislature to investigate the project and who should be held responsible, “this type of problem can never happen again”.