LCQ3: Contingency arrangements for railway incidents

     Following is a question by the Hon Mrs Sophie Leung Lau Yau-fun and a reply by the Secretary for Transport and Housing, Ms Eva Cheng, at the Legislative Council meeting today (February 8):


     The data from the Transport Department indicate that railway transport is a vital transport system in Hong Kong with 3.9 million passenger trips per day, which account for about 37% of all trips made on public transport each day. In December 2011, the underground railway in Singapore experienced the most serious disruption in 24 years, which resulted in a suspension of train services for more than five hours and affected hundreds of thousands of passengers. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(a) whether it knows if the MTR Corporation Limited (MTRCL) has a graded mechanism in place to deal with railway disruptions of different types and different levels of seriousness; if it has, of the details of the graded contingency plan; if not, of the details of the contingency plan of MTRCL; under what circumstances the authorities will intervene in handling a railway incident; and

(b) whether the Government has any contingency plan to deal with major incidents occurring in Hong Kong (e.g. power outages, terrorist attacks and natural disasters, etc.) which may paralyse the whole railway system and render it impossible to resume operation within a short time; if it has, of the specific details of its contingency plan (including, within a short time, how to notify the public of the incident, evacuate passengers from the MTR trains and stations, co-ordinate road traffic to deal with a passenger flow of nearly 1 million passenger trips, and ensure that emergency ambulance services are not affected, etc.); if not, whether the relevant government departments and MTRCL will work together as soon as possible to formulate joint contingency measures; whether the Government will step up publicity on the contingency plan for railway incidents, and publish the information to facilitate public perusal?



     Our reply to the two parts of the question is as follows:

Alert System

     With regard to the alert sytem, the MTR Corporation Limited (MTRCL) is required by the Transport Department (TD) to issue an Amber or Red Alert message to TD and other public transport operators in accordance with the seriousness of the railway incident.  

     "Amber Alert" is defined as an early warning in respect of an incident which could lead to a serious disruption of service. Upon being alerted, other public transport operators should alert their emergency unit, prepare for possible emergency action at short notice and keep in touch with MTRCL.

     "Red Alert" is defined as a signal to indicate that a serious disruption has continued or is expected to continue for over 20 minutes, and emergency transport support services from other public transport operators are required. Upon being alerted, public transport operators should urgently mobilise their resources to provide appropriate supporting services as quickly as possible.

     MTRCL is required to notify TD within 8 minutes on any service disruption incident that has occurred for 8 minutes or is expected to last for 8 minutes or more. Train service disruption incidents refer to those incidents that lead to a stoppage of service at a railway station or a stop (in respect of Light Rail), or on a section of a railway line.

     Besides, according to the Mass Transit Railway Regulations, MTRCL should report to the Electrical and Mechanical Services Department (EMSD) any incident that occurred at any part of the entire railway premises which has a direct bearing on the safe operation of the railway.

Emergency Transport Coordination Centre of TD

     The Emergency Transport Coordination Centre (ETCC) of TD monitors and handles traffic and public transport incidents 24-hour a day. In the light of the seriousness and the extent of the railway incidents, ETCC will timely notify other public transport service operators, the Police, Fire Services Department (FSD) and other relevant government departments and institutions to co-ordinate and implement emergency plans. TD will also disseminate relevant messages, such as emergency bus service arrangements and updated traffic information to the public through the media and other channels, so as to facilitate passengers identifying appropriate alternative services or changing their journeys to minimise the impact of the incident on them.

Contingency Arrangements for Major Incidents

     In case of a major incident, MTRCL will activate the Incident Control Post to deal with the incident together with government departments including FSD, Police and TD in accordance with established procedures of contingency plans so as to expedite safe evacuation of passengers.

     In case the power supply to MTRCL is affected, a backup system on board of the trains will be activated to supply electricity to major facilities on trains, including some of the lighting, ventilation and communication systems. Moreover, staff will be swiftly deployed to assist with passenger detrainment.

     The power supply system of MTRCL is supported by the Hongkong Electric Company Limited (HEC) and CLP Power Hong Kong Limited (CLP), together with their various power stations and electrical equipment. The transmission system of HEC and CLP are interconnected to enable the provision of emergency support to each other during generator failure. In fact, the power supply network for MTRCL is divided into sections. Any power failure will be confined to the respective section areas. Therefore, the risk factor of complete paralysis of the railway system due to significant power outages is minimal.  

     In face of an early warning of terrorist attack or a major natural disaster, the government security authorities and TD will, together with MTRCL, implement effective contingency measures as per the established anti-terrorist contingency plan or natural disaster contingency plan. Every year, MTRCL conducts a total of 12 regular drills jointly with different government departments such as the Railway Police District, FSD, TD and EMSD in order to ensure that contingency measures can be implemented smoothly when necessary.

     In the event of complete paralysis of the railway system due to unpredictable factors such as terrorist attack, earthquake and tsunami, the Administration will handle the incident as a territory-wide crisis of disaster level.  

Specific Contingency Arrangements of MTRCL

     Specifically, MTRCL has drawn up various contingency measures for all MTR lines and the Light Rail together with TD and the Police in the light of the geographical location and specific environment of all railway lines and stations and different degrees of service disruption that may occur.

     Once train service needs to be suspended, MTRCL will ascertain the situation and make assessment on the impact to train service as soon as possible, and disseminate relevant information to the passengers and the media. In particular, for passengers who have yet entered the railway system, MTRCL will request the electronic media to disseminate information on the situation of service disruption and alternative public transport. At the same time, MTRCL will look into the cause of the incident and carry out repair works for early resumption of service.

     Drawing on the experiences of past incidents, MTRCL has made continuous improvement and enhancement to its contingency plans and implemented a series of new contingency measures. These include the establishment of a 60-member dedicated Customer Service Rapid Response Unit to provide advice and assistance to passengers, maintain order at affected stations and emergency bus boarding/alighting points, and make timely reports to the Operations Control Centre so as to ensure more effective co-ordination and crowd management with the departments concerned such as the Police.  

Dissemination of Information

     Regarding dissemination of information to passengers, MTRCL has formulated measures to strengthen its communication with passengers during service suspension with a view to assisting them to make appropriate arrangements. These measures include: (a) broadcasting details of the service situation at stations and in trains; (b) providing alternative public transport information such as franchised bus routes, bus stop locations and emergency bus boarding/alighting points on large information displays installed at stations; and (c) displaying signs from concourse ceilings and at street level to mark routes to emergency bus boarding/alighting points.  

     Moreover, MTRCL has installed LCD screens at conspicuous locations of station entry gates at 20 interchange stations to provide train service information and other important notices during service suspensions or major disruptions. All stations will have LCD screens installed by the end of 2013.  

Emergency Bus

     In addition, MTRCL has devised emergency bus deployment plans for railway incidents and agreements were signed with bus operators for the provision of such services during railway incidents to take affected passengers to the nearest MTR station still under normal operation to continue their journeys.  

     Since the carrying capacity of emergency buses is far below that of the railway, they could only serve as a support service rather than a replacement of the entire railway service. Therefore, most passengers may have to change to other unaffected MTR lines or alternative public transport services to travel to their destinations.

Management of Passenger Flow

     Experienced staff who have undergone sufficient training and drills are on duty at each MTR station to carry out crowd management, make public announcements, issue station notices and help passengers handle fare matters according to established procedures in times of incidents. The number of station staff will be increased as needed. In addition, MTRCL will deploy staff to monitor and report the street-level situation to Operations Control Centre and Station Control Rooms during incidents, to facilitate more effective co-ordination with relevant departments such as the Police for better crowd management.  

Publicity and Public Education

     MTRCL understands the concern of passengers and the general public with regard to the contingency measures in case of railway incidents. It is also understood that more relevant information made available to affected passengers during an incident will not only facilitate evacuation, but also enable passengers to make timely adjustment to their journeys and reduce any inconvenience that might be caused.  

     MTRCL has published the contingency information which is of concern to public and passengers, including the types and locations of alternative road-based public transport services in the vicinity of the MTR stations, as well as the estimated arrival time, locations of and routes to boarding and alighting points of emergency buses on its Rail Service Suspension Passenger Guide (the Guide) tailor-made for each station for distribution. The Guide has also been uploaded to MTRCL's website for easy reference of the general public.

Ends/Wednesday, February 8, 2012
Issued at HKT 14:36