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Thu May 19 2022

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Delay to $62bn rail project catches HK government by surprise

16 Apr 14 Completion of the HK$62.4bn (£4.8bn) Hong Kong section of Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link has been postponed by nearly a year due to construction delays including severe flood damage to a TBM.

Hong Kong’s transport secretary Professor Anthony Cheung said he was surprised and disappointed to learn of the situation. “Over the last weekend, I was informed by the chairman and the chief executive officer of the MTR Corporation that based on the latest assessment of the progress of the construction works, the project will be subject to some delay,” he said.

Construction started in 2010 and was due for completion next year, followed by up to nine months of testing. The project's completion has been pushed to 2016, with the line now expected to be ready for operation in 2017.

“The Express Rail Link project is a very large undertaking and immensely complex. Since construction began, we have been presented with numerous challenges which have put pressure on our schedule,” said TC Chew, projects director of MTR Corporation. “We have been very focused on catching up through fine-tuning designs and adjusting the construction works but this latest situation with the TBM makes it clear that completion of the project by 2015 is not achievable.”

During the 'black' rainstorm on 30 March 2014, a section of tunnel in Yuen Long connecting Tsat Sing Kong and Tai Kong Po was flooded when heavy rain washed soil and debris into the work site, blocking the surface drains. As a result, flood waters found their way into the partially bored tunnel where the TBM was located. After clearing the site, the MTR project team, the contractor and TBM manufacturer conducted detailed inspection of the TBM to assess the extent of the damage.

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Their findings have concluded that substantial repair work is required, particularly complete replacement of the electronic components, before the TBM can become functional again. Further studies are being carried out to determine whether the TBM should be repaired or if an alternative method should be used to finish excavating the remaining tunnel section. The current assessment is a prolonged delay of up to nine months in the construction programme.

There are two other critical locations where the challenges are of particular concern. One is the extremely difficult ground condition at the West Kowloon Terminus site. The underground rock strata sitting at a higher than expected level is requiring more time to excavate. But progress has also been hindered by boulders and uncharted utilities that had to be negotiated during the excavation process. The second critical challenge involves the complex geology at the cross-boundary section of the tunnels under the protected wetland area. As marble caverns are known to be located in the zone, tunnel boring work have to proceed with extreme care and any unforeseen circumstances will have to be dealt with as they surface.

“And it will not be possible for the works to be completed in 2015. I have to say I was totally caught by surprise by such information, and obviously I felt very disappointed and deeply concerned about the delay," said Cheung. So I've asked the Corporation to provide me with a full assessment report on the progress of the construction work as soon as possible. Separately, I've asked the director of highways to conduct an independent review and assessment of the project progress.”

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