HONG KONG • Rail service provider Mass Transit Railway (MTR) faces a fine of over HK$20 million (S$3.5 million) after a service disruption of over 10 hours, reportedly due to a computer glitch, left hundreds of thousands of commuters stranded.
The disruption along the Kwun Tong line began shortly after 11am last Saturday, when trains between Lam Tin and Ngau Tau Kok Stations were forced to travel slowly because of a signalling fault, Hong Kong daily Sing Tao reported on its website.
As commuters piled up outside the stations, shuttle buses were deployed to disperse the crowd.
But the summer heat proved too much for some. Apple Daily reported that at least one commuter was taken to hospital after complaining of discomfort.
Passengers on trains pulling into Ngau Tau Kok Station said the cars felt as hot as a sauna.
The service was gradually restored after 9.30pm, over 10 hours later - the longest-ever delay in MTR's history, said Apple Daily.
One passenger, who gave her name as Ms Wong, said she was travelling from Kwun Tong Station to Tiu Keng Leng Station when the system broke down.
RARE COMPUTER GLITCH
It is very rare. I can't remember a similar problem in more than 10 years. They tried to reboot the systems, but it didn't work.
MR WONG YUEN WOOD, chairman of the Hong Kong Railway Professionals Union, who said he learnt that the three computer systems controlling the "interlocking" had broken down at around the same time.
Instructions were confusing as the train driver told passengers to get off on two occasions, but moved on subsequently at a snail's pace, said Ms Wong. She arrived at her station 45 minutes later, for a trip that usually takes only eight minutes.
An MTR spokesman apologised for the inconvenience caused to commuters and promised an investigation into the breakdown.
This is the fifth case of train delay in nine days and also the eighth this year that stretched beyond 31 minutes, Sing Tao reported. Last year, MTR was fined a total of HK$14.5 million for eight delays that lasted more than 31 minutes.
Although the operator has not released an official account of what happened, MTR engineer Wong Yuen Wood said that the delay was caused by a rare failure of three computer systems that control the rail signalling apparatus, reported the South China Morning Post.
Mr Wong, who is also chairman of the Hong Kong Railway Professionals Union, claimed he learnt that the three computer systems controlling the "interlocking" had broken down at around the same time.
Interlocking is a safety measure to prevent train collisions by making it impossible for a train to proceed unless the route is proved safe.
"It is very rare," Mr Wong was quoted as saying about the incident. "I can't remember a similar problem in more than 10 years. They tried to reboot the systems, but it didn't work."
He added that, normally, train services would not be affected if one computer system failed, as long as either of the other two still worked.
However, because of the fault, MTR had to switch to manual control of the system, which caused delays, said Mr Wong.
MTR is expected to face a fine of more than HK$20 million for the disruption.
In April, a power fault caused a 21/2-hour delay on the Kwun Tong line during rush hour, plunging traffic in East Kowloon into chaos.
Stranded passengers were forced to walk along rail tracks in the dark, and eight people were taken to hospital for checks after the outage knocked out the air-conditioning in the trains.
The deputy chairman of the Legislative Council's subcommittee on railway matters, Mr Edward Lau Kwok Fan, said the disruptions were probably signs that the rail line was ageing and called on MTR to step up its maintenance.
The Kwun Tong line is one of 10 main commuter lines operated by MTR that commenced operation in 1979.