【明報專訊】OVER the past few years, it has from time to time transpired that MTR services have to be suspended so that emergency repairs can be made because there is a "crack" in a rail. The MTR Corporation Limited (MTRCL) has often described what causes such accidents as cracks or fissures. About the accident Lai King Station saw the day before yesterday (November 2), it said at first a crack had been spotted in a rail. However, photos a source has given us show the rail in question was broken and displaced. On the face of it, the situation was much more serious than the MTRCL spokesperson has described. And trains passed through while the broken rail was being repaired. Because of the situation mentioned above, one has reason to harbour suspicions. Has the MTRCL downplayed the rail breakage accident? Has its decision not to suspend services put passengers in danger? Is it overload that often leads to rail accidents? These are questions worth looking into. Train services must be zero-risk. The government has a duty to require the MTRCL to answer the three questions truthfully.
Rails must be absolutely safe and zero-risk, for heavy casualties may occur if any problem causes a derailment. Rail breakages are grave by any standard and must be taken seriously. Under the MTRCL's guidelines for its staff, train services should be suspended if a rail has moved sideways (outward) more than twenty-five millimetres or has moved sideways (towards the inside of the wheel) more than five millimetres. One may infer from the fact that trains continued to pass through that the MTRCL deemed the crack displacement less than five millimetres. However, our source takes the view that the broken rail moved more than five millimetres towards the inside of the wheel and train services ought to have been suspended. In his opinion, the MTRCL had no regard to passenger safety when it allowed trains to pass through at reduced speeds.
Which version makes better sense? Perhaps both can come up with cogent arguments for their respective cases. The MTRCL's decision not to suspend train services might be well founded. However, it is by no means zero-risk to have trains travel on a broken rail, albeit at reduced speeds, for that would threaten passenger safety. Our source suspects the MTRCL decided against suspending train services lest its image should be damaged, lest it should get fined by the government and lest it should have to arrange bus connections. The source has disclosed similar things often happen and is worried that very serious consequences might ensue should any accident occur. Faced with such allegations, the MTRCL, to reassure the public, must of necessity let citizens know how "rail breakage" is defined and put forward convincing arguments to show there is no need to worry about the safety of a train travelling on a broken rail.
Another matter is worth attention. A rail normally has a life of seven to ten years. However, it is known that few of the fractured rails had passed their lives. The rail that caused the accident at Lai King Station (which an Austrian producer supplied) had been in use for only two years. Some maintain the high frequency of MTR rail accidents has to do with overload. When there are twenty-four trains an hour, a rail will have a totally different tolerance and a totally different life than when there are twelve trains an hour. To cope with the high MTR ridership, the rail company cannot but increase train frequency. There is no ruling out the possibility of that making MTR rails short-lived. This being the case, what the MTRCL can do is to step up inspections and impose higher maintenance requirements so that accidents can actually be prevented.