MTR Corporation Chairman Frederick Ma faces backlash after he insisted on not disclosing further information about a recent report that the wheels on the express link’s new trains experienced higher-than-expected levels of wearing on trial runs.

“It’s like when you open a new restaurant – on trial runs you may have no customers, water leakage and stoves that don’t really work, but there is no reason to tell your future customers about these issues,” Ma said on a Commercial Radio show on Monday.

Carrie Lam and Frederick Ma. File Photo: GovHK.

The remarks came days after the MTRC said its maintenance staff had discovered higher than expected levels of wearing for the wheels. The company’s operating chief Francis Li said last Thursday that abrasion occurs naturally, but declined to give details despite repeated questions from reporters.

Following the revelation, Ma said Saturday that there was no need to disclose more information and asked the public to trust the MTRC management.

The former commerce secretary told reporters: “None of you are a technician, right? The most important thing we need to know is whether the wearing will affect the system’s safety, and our staff have said that it will not, so there is no point in giving out too much information.”

“When we tell you that it is okay, it is okay. You don’t need to worry,” he said.

Ma added that, since there are railway incidents every day, “the management will not be able to sleep” if they were to report every incident to the public, Stand News reported.

Civic Party lawmaker Tanya Chan criticised Ma’s attitude, saying that he is not fit to continue serving as the company chair. She said Hong Kong people and lawmakers have the right to enquire into the operations of the railway company, given that the government is its major shareholder.

‘Didn’t pray’

In response to criticism, Ma said Monday: “Many friends said I seemed to be acting strangely. Maybe the reason why I gave such a response was because it was very hot that day, or because I didn’t pray that morning.”

But he refused to correct or retract his statement, saying that releasing more information would not help the situation. He said the company needed to strike a balance between the public’s right to information and the feelings of its employees.

Frederick Ma and Carrie Lam (front row) with government officials and lawmakers on the new express rail train. File Photo: GovHK.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam said Tuesday in Ma’s defence: “Maybe it’s like what he said – the weather was too hot. I think it wasn’t intentional.”

“We will definitely not refuse to provide information. We will work closely with the MTRC and be transparent, so that the public will have confidence in the launch of the express link this September.”

Pro-Beijing lawmaker Michael Tien said Ma’s response is not desirable from a public relations point of view, but he said it is sometimes necessary to “stand firm” where professional judgments are concerned.

Last week, the MTRC confirmed two separate incidents of water seepage affecting the express rail link’s signalling system near Mai Po and the West Kowloon terminus.

Last month, it was discovered that a new express rail link train had derailed at Shek Kong depot in the New Territories.

Ellie Ng

Ellie Ng has written for Foreign Policy, the Daily Telegraph, Global Voices Online and others.