26th September 2013
High Chance for Made in China Trains to Derail – MTR May Have Millions of Budget Overrun
MTR’s Hong Kong Island South Line is scheduled to be in operation in 2015. The MTR documents revealed that there are design errors of the driverless trains to be used in this line manufactured in China, and may hit other parts on the rail when running which can cause derailing. The MTR is trying to fix the problem. An experienced engineer said that such error can lead to fatal accidents hence is unforgivable, and it can cause a one year delay for the line to be in operation as the error needs to be fixed which leads to millions of US dollar of over budget. A spokesperson from MTR denied any safety issues and delay.
The MTR South Island Line will use driverless trains, each train will have three carriages. MTR purchased ten trains from Chang Chun Railway Vehicles Company in 2011 at US$70 million. A source from MTR said that there are major design error in these trains and MTR is currently looking for a solution. An internal document shows that some of the parts on those trains, including the axle bearing box and gearbox have exceed the “dynamic clearance limit”.
An experienced engineer who’s familiar with the operation of railway explained that the “dynamic clearance limit” is the space reserved on the railway to ensure that the wiggles of the train when it runs on the railway will not cause the train to touch or hit any devices in any circumstances, “if there’s a slightest touch, the train can derail. This is the bottom line that can never been be touched.”
However, the documents show that the axle bearing box and gearbox of the trains to be used on the South Island Line have exceeded the limit by 46.8mm and 25.8mm respectively. The engineer said the axle bearing box that sticks out can hit the wires, concrete lids, signal lights etc in the tunnel, and the gearbox that sticks out can be affected by the gravels or water on the rail.
The engineer said that these errors are extremely difficult to be fixed as part of the South Island Line railway infrastructure is completed, and cannot change them in order to accommodate the trains. Changing the design of the trains is difficult too, “this is essentially redesigning the trains, which is a big deal. After the new design is done, a series of test running has to be carried out before the trains can go in full operation”. This will take around three years, which means the official launch day will be delayed by at least a year.
A MTR engineer proposed a solution in mid-August, suggesting to lower the standard and change the limits. He/She also warned that if the limits are not modified, the relevant system will have to be redesigned and could cause at least a one-year delay. However, this proposed solution was denied by MTR’s chief mechanical engineer Leung Chi-lap early September, because the solution failed to cover all the possibilities. Leung also thinks that new calculation and discussions are needed. So far, no solution has been identified. Gary Fan Kwok-wai, vice chairman of the Panel on Transport in the Legislative Council, criticised that MTR failed to “guard the gate”, and a delay of launch is essentially wasting public funding. Fan thinks that MTR should explain the situation to the public and provide a solution.