Embattled Hong Kong subway operator appeals for end to vandalism

A protester burns paper offerings at the Causeway Bay MTR Station exit on Oct 1, 2019. ST PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG

HONG KONG (BLOOMBERG) - The operator of Hong Kong's subway on Friday (Oct 4) appealed to protesters to stop damaging facilities on the network, which has become a battleground in the unrest that's gripped the city over the past four months.

Mr Adi Lau, operations director at MTR Corp, said at a televised briefing that the cost of damage in recent days amounted to a third of the total suffered by the company during the protests, though he didn't provide a figure.

Mr Lau said the violence - including the throwing of petrol bombs - endangered passengers and staff.

Hong Kong's subway has been the scene of clashes between demonstrators and police and pro-China groups throughout the months-long protests.

The unrest stepped up another gear this week as the People's Republic of China celebrated its 70th birthday on Tuesday, with President Xi Jinping overseeing a military parade in Beijing while running battles broke out in Hong Kong between police and protesters, one of whom was shot.

MTR temporarily closed about half of its nearly 100 stations on Tuesday.

Mr Lau said there was no choice but to suspend services and that safety of passengers and staff was paramount. He said the operator needs police help to provide security on the rail system.

MTR's operations chief Sammy Wong said at the briefing that 800 access gates, 900 ticketing and travel-card machines, and 700 surveillance cameras have been broken during the protests, which began in early June.

A dozen lifts were also damaged, he said.

Mr Lau added that repair work is hampered by a lack of machinery parts and that some facilities have run out of backup components.

In an interview with Bloomberg Television on Sept 19, MTR chairman Rex Auyeung said property damage at that time amounted to as much as HK$40 million (S$7.04 million).

MTR's shares are down 21 per cent from a record high on July 18, shortly after Mr Auyeung became chairman of the company, which also operates rail networks in Australia, Sweden and the UK.

The decline was also fuelled by the operator announcing a HK$2 billion provision for its troubled Shatin-Central rail project.

MTR lost nearly US$6 billion (S$8.28 billion) in market value in August and September alone.

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