Severe delays of up to 40-minutes hit Hong Kong’s MTR network on Tuesday morning, as commuters struggled to make it to work. The firm’s operations chief has said it was the first time in memory that three rail lines had encountered signalling issues simultaneously.

mtr hong kong delays
Photo: Henry Cheung‎.

The MTR Corporation said in an announcement at 6:20am that a signalling system fault had extended total journey times on the Tsuen Wan Line, Kwun Tong Line and Island Line.

mtr hong kong delays

Trains ran at 12 to 15-minute intervals on the affected lines as large crowds gathered at major stations such as Kowloon Tong and Central.

Queues also formed at bus stops and the Star Ferry terminal.

MTR signal issue
Photo: Facebook/年十.

MTRC Operations Director Adi Lau said the company noticed the signalling issue at about 5.30am, as it prepared services for the day: “We realised that commands could not be sent to trains… Because of the ‘safety first’ principle, our trains could only be operated manually at a slow speed.”

Lau said the company could provide only 20 to 30 per cent of normal services during peak hours, as passengers turned to replacement bus services. He said engineering staff were trying to recover the service and that the MTRC will investigate the cause.

mtr hong kong delays
Photo: Colin Wong.

“In my memory, it is the first time that three lines have had signalling problems at the same time.”

MTR signal issue
Parodies and memes spread across social media referencing the MTR signalling issue. Photo: Facebook.

Announcements across the network said that passengers would not be charged for their journeys.

mtr hong kong delays
Photo: Yim Man Li..

Speaking ahead of the weekly Executive Council meeting on Tuesday, Chief Executive Carrie Lam called on employers to not punish staff who were late because of the MTR issue beyond their control.

MTR signal issue
Outside Hung Hom station. Photo: Chris Kwok

She said she also received a message from her secretary at around 8am notifying her of lateness because of the limited train services: “I don’t know what today’s issue is – is it mechanical? Or manpower? But regardless, we will ask the MTRC to ensure the rail system is safe, reliable, and satisfies the public’s demand in public transport,” she told reporters.

MTR signal issue
Photo: Handout/Telegram.

The MTRC said at around noon that the services of all four lines were gradually resuming. Trains were running at 4-minute intervals.

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.