Tsuen Wan Line MTR services between Central and Admiralty could remain suspended for an extra day as the rail operator says the site of Monday’s crash may be difficult to clear.

Update: Signal system supplier confirms software issue after Central train crash, MTR Corp says

Chief of Operations Engineering Tony Lee told reporters that there will only be three hours available overnight to conduct recovery work, after two trains collided during a test run at 2:57am.

Photo: MTRC.

“We will assess how to best use the three hours tonight when the trains are not running to remove the damaged trains. We believe it will take more time, and the Tsuen Wan Line service at Central station may not be back in service tomorrow morning,” Lee said.

MTR Operations Director Adi Lau explaining the crash. Photo: screenshot.

Operations Director Adi Lau said that the crash, which resulted in the two drivers being hospitalised, was related to the testing of a new signalling system.

Central Station. Photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

Lau said that a train was travelling on a scissors crossover between the two stations, but another train travelling in the opposite direction was attempting to use the same crossover. As a result, the front of one of the trains hit the third and fourth carriages of the other train.

Central Station on Monday morning. Photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

“A scissors crossover allows a train to switch from one track to another… If there is already a train on the crossover, an automatic safety system should not let another train get on the same section,” he said.

It was unclear why the crash happened, Lau said, adding that the MTR Corporation will have urgent meetings with the contractors of the new signalling system to find out. The system cost HK$3.3 billion and was supplied by Alstom-Thales DUAT JV, a joint venture company between European and Canadian firms.

The MTRC is set to speak with Alstom-Thales on Monday afternoon, and an urgent board of directors meeting is scheduled for Tuesday.

Photo: MTRC.

Lau added that the company will establish a committee to investigate, and its members will include experts from the MTRC, Alstom-Thales and outside experts.

In the meantime, MTRC will stop all testing of the new signalling system during off hours. Lau added the signalling system currently in use has safeguards to prevent such crashes, and that it had been working fine for many years.

Services along the Tsuen Wan Line to Admiralty will continue at three-and-a-half minute intervals between trains.

Gov’t and lawmakers irate

On Monday morning, the Hong Kong government said it had “great concern” over the MTR collision. Transport and housing chief Frank Chan had requested that the rail operator conduct a thorough investigation. Chan also told MTRC Chairman Frederick Ma to conduct an urgent board meeting.

The crash occurred five months after the MTR system ground to a halt for an entire morning over signalling problems, though the previous incident was not directly related to the new signalling system.

Lawmaker Michael Tien, who was previously chair of the legislature’s railways subcommittee, described the crash as a “very serious” incident. He said the problem may be due to the MTRC testing the new signalling system to handle high train frequencies.

Central Station on Monday morning. Photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

Civic Party lawmaker Jeremy Tam also expressed concern about why the automatic anti-collision measures did not kick in, adding that anti-collision systems should function independently from the signalling system.

Central Station. Photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

If anti-collision safeguards were not working, there could be a wider impact than just the test trains, he said.

Commuters at Admiralty Station during rush-hour on Monday. Photo: Jennifer Creery/HKFP.

He said that if there was a problem with anti-collision safeguards, passenger trains could be at risk.

Photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

Democratic Party lawmaker Lam Cheuk-ting also called upon the MTRC to appear before the Legislative Council to explain.

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.