The MTR Corporation knew about cracks in Chinese-built subway trains destined for Singapore in 2014, but continued to order trains from the Chinese company since safety issues were not involved, the corporation has said.

Mainland manufacturer CSR Sifang is responsible for manufacturing nine trains for the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link and 93 trains for the Mass Transit Railway Corporation’s four urban lines.

On Thursday, multiple emails that had been sent to the Transport and Housing Bureau emerged, warning that there were “irregularities” in the MTRC’s tender process for new urban line trains. No factory visits had taken place, nor formal meetings with potential suppliers, and the tender process was six months shorter than the usual 14 to 15 months.

china train MTR
Chinese-made MTR train running on Kwun Tong line. Photo: WikiMedia.

The corporation told Apple Daily that it raised questions with the Singaporean subway operator in 2014, after it learnt of the problems.

It said its Singaporean counterpart SMRT told them the cracks would not cause safety issues when the trains are running, and that they continued to order trains from CSR Sifang afterwards.

MTRC did not cancel the tender eligibility of CSR Sifang after the issue emerged, as safety was not concerned. A HK$6 billion contract was awarded to the company last year for 93 urban lines trains, the largest contract the MTR Corporation has ever granted.

It added that the bodies of trains ordered by the corporation were made with stainless steel, and not the aluminium alloy that was used to make the Singaporean trains.

Photo: FactWire.

Regarding the shorter duration for the tender process, the corporation told the newspaper that – since the nature and content of contracts may differ case by case – the time required for the prequalification and tender process depended on the realistic situation and cannot be generalised.

The corporation also said that the emails sent to the transport minister were recommendation given to the MTRC to approach another train manufacturer, and it did not consider them in order to ensure the tender process was fair.

Lawmaker Michael Tien Puk-sun, former chairman of the Kowloon-Canton Railway Corporation, said he has urged the MTRC to organise a tour for lawmakers to CSR Sifang’s factory in Qingdao.

Kris Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist with an interest in local politics. His work has been featured in Washington Post, Public Radio International, Hong Kong Economic Times and others. He has a BSSc in Sociology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Kris is HKFP's Editorial Director.