The MTR Corporation said it will offer commuters half-price fares on a selected day as compensation for the severe delays passengers experienced on Tuesday.

The delays were caused by signalling issues across four lines. The incidents began at around 6am and continued for much of the morning as commuters struggled to make it to work or find other modes of transport. The metro service only returned to normal at around 11:45am.

MTR Hong Kong signal issue delays

During the incident, commands could not be sent to trains and trains could only be operated manually at a slow speed, causing significant delays. Computers linked to each line’s signalling system have to be rebooted one by one to resume the normal service.

MTRC Projects Director Jacob Kam said the corporation has isolated the problematic system from the main system. He said it was unprecedented that several lines were affected simultaneously.

“There was no mention of such a situation in our design and maintenance manuals,” he said.

MTR Hong Kong signal issue delays

The MTRC is to ask outside experts to investigate the incident, though it may take two months for a report to be completed. It said the Tsuen Wan Line underwent a system update last night and the corporation was investigating if it caused the signalling issues across the four affected lines.

MTRC Operations Director Adi Lau said there could be a possibility that a problem may occur again during evening peak hours. He urged passengers to be tolerant and reserve more time for their travels.

Asked why the MTRC chose not to halt services entirely across the affected lines in order to investigate, Kam said: “We wished to provide a limited service so that passengers could travel – it has been our practice.”

“The service may be halted entirely for maintenance in foreign countries. But we believe it was better for passengers to continue with the service,” he said.

MTR Hong Kong signal issue delays

Michael Tien, chair of the legislature’s Subcommittee on Matters Relating to Railways, said he was not certain about the exact cause of the incident.

He said he questioned whether the current punishment mechanism for MTR network delays was robust enough. He suggested punishments should be linked to the lost productivity caused by delays, calculated by the number of passengers and the distance they travelled.

The smaller the number, the higher the punishment would be, Tien said. “This is the most reasonable way to calculate the punishment,” he said.

mtr hong kong delays
Photo: Henry Cheung‎.

Last year, the corporation was fined HK$2 million by the government after some services were suspended for 10 hours. It has been slapped with HK$85 million in fines since 2012 in light of 40 similar incidents.

Civic Party lawmaker Tanya Chan said the MTR service experienced a series of problems this year, and its punishment was minor compared to the billions of revenue generated each year.

“The government should fix the MTRC’s system and governance issues as soon as possible,” she said.

The Democratic Party and the Federation of Trade Unions protested at the MTRC headquarters in Kowloon Bay on Tuesday afternoon.

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.