Steel-bar explanations fall short

Editorial | 31 Dec 2018

The drilling open of concrete at the Hung Hom Station of the Sha Tin to Central Link to expose steel bars to safety investigation has been underway for awhile - and the findings to date have been far from reassuring.

It's disturbing not only because a substantial number of the examined structural couplings were found to have been improperly screwed but, quite absurdly, there doesn't appear to be a safety standard commonly adopted by both the MTR Corporation Ltd and the government.

Was the administration demanding too much when it said six of the 10 couplings initially reviewed were too shallow that, according to some engineers, could mean the joints may not provide the required level of support for the platform?

Worse still, more couplings were subsequently found to be substandard.

Or was MTRCL trying to convince a skeptical public that the Hung Hom Station was up to acceptable standards - even though the complex was poorly built - when it offered a totally different interpretation of the findings to insist the couplings offered enough force, although the workmanship left much to be desired?

Those at the railway and Buildings Department could only expect the public to be bewildered by their divergent accounts.

In face of such a dilemma, there can be only one authority, and this has to be the Buildings Department. MTRCL was irresponsible as it tried to persuade the public to accept the shoddy construction.

As it did so, the rail operator contradicted itself. If the work is safe as claimed, why is it necessary to set a higher standard in the first place? If the standard as set wasn't meant to be upheld, then what's the point of even having the standard?

The disparity in understanding the coupling findings was bizarre, and MTRCL's argument showed it hasn't seriously learned from the scandal that has already led to a major blood-letting among the company's top management.

The government majority-owned corporation is now in the process of cracking open the concrete in numerous sections of the Hung Hom Station platform in wake of allegations that a number of the steel bars had been cut short, in breach of building plans.

These steel bars were supposed to be coupled to adjoining joints.

MTRCL has commented on the couplings, but said little about the steel bars reportedly shortened by workers using hydraulic cutters.

In a separate development, an independent inquiry commission appointed by Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor has heard witnesses testify that they had seen incidents of workers shortening the steel bars.

While the physical and ultrasonic examination of the bars has yet to be completed, there are only three probable explanations for the lack of information about the shortening of the bars. One, the investigation hasn't yet progressed to those bars in question. Two, what the independent inquiry has heard may be questionable. Or three, the method examining the bars was inadequate.

Unless investigators are 100 percent certain the method being employed is thorough enough to reveal all details, the outcome of the exercise will still be open to queries.

It simply won't help by suggesting that substandard construction is safe.

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