Hong Kong’s most expensive railway line – the HK$97.1 billion Shatin to Central Link – will likely see further cost overruns and a delay to its opening date, said transport chief Frank Chan on Friday.

Chan’s remarks came after new revelations of problems at the Hung Hom station, To Kwa Wan station and Exhibition Centre station construction sites. Last week the MTR Corporation also submitted a report on the levels of subsidence found in the vicinity of stations along the Link.

Hung Hom station expansion site. Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Exploringlife.

The Legislative Council’s railways subcommittee convened a special meeting on Friday to address both issues.

“Under the current circumstances, we are putting safety as our top priority… we have to ensure safety before the railway can become operational,” Chan said, adding that it was “very likely” for the opening date to be delayed.

When asked if there will be a need for more funds, Chan said that the costs of the Link had already exceeded original estimates, and that the government must go through the legislature again to seek additional funding.

Construction of the Shatin to Central Link has been plagued by controversy since May, when media first reported that steel bars of support walls were cut short. Subsequent issues uncovered include shoddy construction and the sinking – also known as subsidence – of buildings near construction sites.

Frank Chan. Photo: Citizen News.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam ordered an independent investigation into issues at Hung Hom station in June.

The Link has been under construction for more than five years, and has exceeded the initial budget by around HK$17 billion. The government said it originally expected parts of the Link to be ready by 2018, with the entire railway becoming operational by 2020.

MTR subsidence report

Prior to the special meeting of the legislature’s railway subcommittee on Friday, the MTR submitted a report on the levels of subsidence found around stations of the Shatin to Central Link.

There were 131 cases where the levels of subsidence exceeded acceptable limits, out of nearly 1,500 monitoring spots.

Around half of the problematic spots were located at Exhibition Centre station, while most of the remainder were found at To Kwa Wan station and its vicinity. Only two of the ten stations along the Shatin to Central Link were free of red flags.

Exhibition Centre station. Photo: Citizen News.

Excavation at Exhibition Centre station had already been halted earlier last month.

Lawmakers said that the MTRC was “moving the goalposts” by amending the acceptable levels of subsidence, and further criticised the government for giving the railway giant free rein.

On Friday, Subcommittee Chair Michael Tien questioned the Buildings Department on whether it would set a firm standard on what constituted unacceptable subsidence.

Building Department Assistant Director Humphrey Ho Hon-kit said that thresholds for subsidence were decided on a case-by-case basis, and according to scientific analysis.

Ho cited the example of Tin Wing station, where the original threshold was 20 milimetres. “After conducting our review, [we believed] 80 milimetres would be acceptable,” he said. He added that the revised thresholds would not affect the safety of the structures involved.

Walls of a flat in To Kwa Wan showed cracks after the MTRC construction began.

Civic Party lawmaker Tanya Chan criticised the lack of a unified standard to determine when subsidence would trigger a stop in construction work.

“If you decide whether to halt construction based on imminent danger… then we can throw away the [Buildings Department] guidelines completely,” Chan said.

Holmes Chan

Holmes Chan is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press. He covers local news with a focus on law, politics, and social movements. He studied law and literature at the University of Hong Kong.