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LCQ6: Blasting works for MTR West Island Line

     Following is a question by the Hon Cheung Hok-ming and a reply by the Acting Secretary for Transport and Housing, Mr Yau Shing-mu, in the Legislative Council today (February 22):


     After I raised a question last year concerning the safety of the tunnel blasting works for the Hong Kong section of Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link, I have recently received complaints one after another regarding the structural problems caused to nearby buildings by the underground blasting works for the West Island Line.  In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(a) whether it knows the total number of complaints received by the MTR Corporation Limited (MTRCL) as at January 30 this year about the problems caused to nearby buildings by the tunnel boring or blasting works for the new lines under construction, with a breakdown by railway line and district; among such complaints, the number of those which were referred to loss adjusters for investigation and the results of such investigations;

(b) as I have learnt that while MTRCL will conduct condition surveys for buildings before the commencement of works, quite a number of residents, building owners and owners' corporations are dissatisfied that MTRCL has neither consulted them before conducting the condition surveys nor disclosed the results after completing the surveys, making it difficult for the affected parties to claim reasonable compensation in the future, whether the authorities will consider urging MTRCL to enhance the transparency of its condition surveys; apart from the referral by MTRCL of complaint cases to the loss adjusters commissioned by MTRCL itself for investigation, whether the authorities will consider assisting the affected parties who have financial difficulties and who are elderly in employing independent surveyors or loss adjusters to conduct objective evaluations and arbitration, or assisting the affected parties to conduct such evaluations through other means (e.g. through the Buildings Department); if not, of the reasons for that; and

(c) whether the authorities and MTRCL have assessed the impact of the airflow and vibration, which are within the relevant statutory limits, generated by tunnel boring or blasting works on older buildings or buildings which are structurally more fragile; if they have, of the details; if not, whether they will consider conducting a comprehensive assessment so as to address public concerns?



     Over the past 30 years or so, the MTR Corporation Limited (MTRCL) has been building underground railway stations or tunnels by means of boring or blasting in densely-populated and built-up urban areas, accumulating considerable experience in this field.  To comply with international practices and standards, the MTRCL will decide whether to build the tunnels and underground stations by boring or blasting after taking into account such factors as geological conditions, tunnel design and surrounding environment.  Many of the existing underground railway stations and tunnels were built by boring or blasting.  For instance, Tai Koo Station and North Point Station were built by blasting.  The railway tunnel between Fortress Hill Station and Shau Kei Wan Station of the Island Line as well as Tai Lam Tunnel of the West Rail Line were also built by blasting.  The Kowloon Southern Link was constructed by boring.  It has been proven by experience that these construction methods will not affect the structural safety of nearby buildings.

     My reply to the three parts of the question is as follows:

(a) Railway projects currently underway are the West Island Line (WIL), the Hong Kong section of the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link (XRL), the South Island Line (East) (SIL(E)) and the Kwun Tong Line Extension.  Except the tunnel works of the Kwun Tong Line Extension have not commenced, the other three railway projects are undergoing tunnel construction works now.

     On public complaints concerning railway works affecting building structures, we have, as at January 30, 2012, received 119 complaints about the WIL project, 81 complaints about the Hong Kong section of the XRL project (complaints received involve locations in Yuen Long, Tsuen Wan, Sham Shui Po and Yau Tsim Mong areas), and two complaints about the SIL(E) project (all complaints involve locations in Southern District).  As for the Kwun Tong Line Extension project, no complaint has been received so far.  Among these complaints, 68 cases concerning the WIL and 41 cases concerning the Hong Kong section of the XRL were referred to loss adjusters.  The loss adjusters have completed the investigation of these 109 cases, and have confirmed that the damages identified does not affect building safety.  

(b) To safeguard the interests of the owners and occupiers and for formulating the most suitable construction method and preventive procedures for implementation during the works, the MTRCL will engage professional surveyors to carry out "pre-construction building condition surveys" for nearby buildings and structures before the commencement of the works so as to record the conditions of the buildings in the vicinity of the works area.  To conduct such surveys within the building boundary, the MTRCL has to obtain the prior consent of relevant owners and occupiers.  The MTRCL will try its best to have the surveys conducted on the dates and at the times proposed by the occupiers.

     As the survey reports contain the interior details of the flats involved, the MTRCL will pass the reports directly to the owners of the relevant flats upon their requests so as to protect their interests and privacy.

     When complaints from residents on damages of their buildings are received, the MTRCL's staff members will first conduct a preliminary check with the residents.  Depending on the complexity of individual cases, the MTRCL may refer the cases to a loss adjuster for assessment.  The loss adjuster, employed by an insurance company acting as a third party instead of engaging by the MTRCL, will assess the compensation claims independently in a professional and open manner.  This well-established practice is commonly adopted locally and abroad for dealing with compensation claims on building damages.  The loss adjuster will arrange to conduct site inspections with the relevant owners, the MTRCL and its contractors.  If it is indicated in the assessment done by the independent loss adjuster that the damages identified are caused by the railway works, the MRTCL and its contractors will promptly discuss the repair arrangements with the relevant owners.  The residents need not employ surveyors on their own for verification.

     Alternatively, the residents can lodge their complaints to the Buildings Department (BD).  As the case may require, the BD will send its officers to conduct observation and detailed analysis for assessing the overall structural safety of the buildings concerned.

(c) According to the Dangerous Goods Ordinance, the MTRCL need to obtain a licence for the use of explosives before carrying out blasting works.  The MTRCL has to submit a "blasting assessment report" to the Mines Division of the Civil Engineering and Development Department for approval.  The report covers, inter alia, the noise and vibration generated during blasting.  The assessment on the impact of the works to nearby buildings and public facilities also forms part of the report so as to ensure structural safety of the buildings in the proximity.  The MTRCL has in place a set of stringently controlled works procedures to be implemented during the construction period by eligible professionals engaged to ensure compliance with the requirements set out in the Buildings Ordinance and other relevant legislations.

     The BD will also request the MTRCL to install sufficient monitoring points around the works site before the construction to monitor the airflow and vibration generated by the works.  If nearby buildings are found to have been affected by the works, the MTRCL will have to take immediate and appropriate actions to prevent aggravation of the problems concerned.  If necessary, the MTRCL will have to cease the relevant works and submit a report including proposed mitigation measures to the BD for approval.

     The MTRCL and its contractors will minimise the impact of the works to nearby communities as far as possible.  The Highways Department, the MTRCL and its contractors have all along maintained close contact and communication with the residents concerned through such means as giving explanations to the residents, owners' committees, incorporated owners and local communities regarding their concerns and co-ordinating actions required; holding regular meetings of community liaison groups; publishing pamphlets on construction methods; and arranging site visit with relevant stakeholders to inspect the tunnel works and providing briefings of the works procedures and relevant safety measures by engineers.

     Thank you.

Ends/Wednesday, February 22, 2012
Issued at HKT 15:52


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