Lawmaker Michael Tien Puk-sun has proposed installing security cameras on trains and conducting random security checks on passengers, following the arson attack onboard a train near the Tsim Sha Tsui MTR station.

A 60-year-old man has been charged with arson in connection with a fire on Friday which injured 19 people.

Tien, chairman of LegCo’s Subcommittee on Matters Relating to Railways, dismissed privacy concerns over the installation of security cameras.

Michael Tien Puk-sun. File

“I believe Hong Kong takes privacy too seriously… anyone in a public place would expect to be seen,” Tien, the former chairman of the Kowloon-Canton Railway Corporationsaid on a RTHK programme on Monday.

“For instance, you are wearing revealing clothes – if you are afraid of being seen, then wear it at home, don’t wear it outside. The public safety of other people cannot be compared to personal privacy.”

Currently, security cameras are installed in half of the MTR trains.

Tien said it would take at least a month and a half to install cabled cameras on the other half, and that it may severely affect services. He suggested that a more simple wireless security camera system could be installed overnight, before all trains are updated in four years.

mtr carriage
The charred MTR carriage where the incident took places. Photo: StandNews.

He also proposed that MTR stations install security cameras and have staff members monitor them.

Another suggestion he made was to conduct random checks on passengers on platforms, like in China and some Western countries. He proposed to have armed law enforcement officers carry out the checks.

“They don’t have to be suspicious people – just check one or two out of ten, it will have a deterrent effect, then people would not think of [committing crimes],” he said.

He agreed that such a measure may receive opposition.

“If you are on a rail service, you know you are in a crowded train. The next time there is a mad man, the next time anything happens – to be honest, you have no way out,” he said. “If you think about this [scenario], how many people would oppose it? We have to discuss this.”

Francis Li Shing-kee
Francis Li Shing-kee. File

The MTR company’s head of operations, Francis Li Shing-kee, said 80 per cent of trains will have security cameras after updates and purchasing new cars.

Li said the company’s review panel will look into whether to install CCTVs, but he believed that security cameras would not have a big effect in handling incidents.

“No matter if it is a big fire, small fire, if there’s smoke or not, the procedures are the same – to drive the car to the [nearest] station as soon as possible,” he said.

The MTRC plans to invite independent experts to provide opinions, Li said, adding that the review report may take two months.

When asked about security checks, Li said the MTR system handles around five million passenger trips every day, and that risk and efficiency need to be balanced.

He also said installing automatic water sprinklers on trains may lead to even bigger chaos, and that the industry has different opinions about the suggestion.

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.