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LCQ16: Fire incident at MTR train and public transport safety
     Following is a question by the Dr Hon Chiang Lai-wan and a written reply by the Secretary for Transport and Housing, Professor Anthony Cheung Bing-leung, in the Legislative Council today (March 22):


     In the evening of the 10th of last month, an incident of suspected arson occurred in the compartment of an MTR train travelling from Admiralty Station to Tsim Sha Tsui Station, resulting in more than 10 injuries. Some members of the public are worried about not knowing how to respond in the event of a similar incident or terrorist attack while travelling on public transport, and whether they, as passengers, are provided with adequate insurance protection.  In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(1) whether it will request the MTR Corporation Limited to expeditiously enhance the security of various railway stations and trains (including conducting security screening on passengers, deploying additional manpower for patrols and installing closed-circuit televisions in all train compartments), upgrade the fire-fighting equipment and first-aid apparatus in railway stations and step up passenger publicity on the locations of, and how to use, fire-fighting equipment; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;

(2) whether it has assessed the risks of arsons and terrorist attacks in various modes of public transport and related facilities (particularly automated people movers or stations with fewer staff on duty) since the aforesaid incident; whether it will improve the relevant contingency plans, educate members of the public on how to respond in the event of such kind of incidents and enhance the dissemination of real-time information on emergencies to passengers through various types of channels, so that members of the public will not be caught unprepared in the event of such incidents; and

(3) whether it knows if the various public transport operators have taken out insurance for their passengers to cover the expenses of long-term treatment and rehabilitation services incurred in the event of their sustaining injuries in an arson or terrorist attack on public transport; if the operators have, of the details; if not, the reasons for that?



     On the night of February 10, 2017, a passenger was alleged to have started a fire on a Tsuen Wan Line train running from Admiralty Station to Tsim Sha Tsui (TST) station. A total of 19 passengers were injured or felt unwell.
     The train captain, having received the alert of the emergency button pulled by passengers at 7.11pm and felt smoke, made a report to the Operation Control Centre (OCC) right away.  The staff of the OCC instantly requested the staff of TST station to make preparation at the platform and inform the Police and the Fire Services Department (FSD). The MTR Corporation Limited (MTRCL) disseminated the information in no time after the occurrence of the incident. Within five minutes after the train concerned arrived at the TST station at 7.14pm, the MTR staff evacuated more than 1 000 passengers on the train and the platform, called for ambulance assistance for injured passengers and put out the fire together with the passengers. The Police and the FSD personnel arrived at the scene within two minutes and four minutes respectively after the train arrived at the platform. At that time, the situation at the scene had basically stabilised. Within a brief several minutes, MTR staff, Police and rescue personnel arrived at the scene to provide emergency services and put things under control, meeting the design and requirements of contingency plans.
     Railway is the backbone of the public transport network of Hong Kong. Over 5 million passenger trips are made on the MTR everyday. Railway safety should be of prime importance.  Although unexpected incidents or improper behaviour of individual person is difficult to prevent, there are adequate facilities and emergency arrangements in the MTR system to handle various types of incidents.
     My reply to the various parts of Dr Hon Chiang Lai-wan's question is as follows:
(1) In considering any risk management measures, there is a need to strike a proper balance among reducing risks and the efficiency of railway system, smooth operation and passenger convenience. The MTR is a mass carrier system with a daily patronage of over 5 million passenger trips and immensely packed during peak periods. Whether security screening is feasible and desirable requires careful deliberation. In view of the seriousness of the incident, the MTRCL has set up a high-level committee (with participation of expert consultants) to conduct a full investigation and review of the incident. The areas to be covered include safety equipment and response procedures of the station and train car, whether the staff have effectively carried out the established procedures, the timeliness and effectiveness of service recovery, whether information was disseminated to passengers properly, as well as further improvement measures. The MTRCL will submit a report to the Electrical and Mechanical Services Department (EMSD) upon the completion of the investigation. The EMSD, in conjunction with other departments such as the FSD and the Police, will examine the report and follow up on the implementation of improvement measures proposed by MTRCL. The report will be made public.
     After the incident, the Railway District, Yau Tsim District, Kowloon West Emergency Unit, Police Tactical Unit, and the Counter Terrorism Response Unit swiftly arrived at scene to handle the situation. In order to enhance public safety and order, and also reassure the public, other than the Railway District and the Counter Terrorism Response Unit, the five land regional Emergency Units and the Police Tactical Unit have already stepped up patrol in the MTR stations. MTRCL will also deploy additional staff to maintain order.
     Closed circuit televisions (CCTVs) were installed within MTR stations and on new trains bought after 2004 to monitor passenger flow and handle requests for assistance from passengers. The MTRCL awarded a contract in July 2015 to purchase 93 trains to fully replace some trains currently running on urban lines. According to the latest information provided by MTRCL, with the 93 new trains mentioned above and the new trains for the Shatin to Central Link being put into service, the proportion of trains equipped with CCTV systems will progressively increase from the current 35 per cent to 85 per cent.
     As regards fire service equipment, all MTR train compartments are constructed with fire retardant materials and equipped with safety devices including fire extinguishers, ventilation windows, emergency telecommunication system with train captains, public announcement system and emergency exits. There are also fire service installations and equipment (Note) inside stations including platforms. Moreover, adequate ventilation and fume extraction facilities and emergency lighting systems are provided in tunnels.
     The MTRCL has provided clear instructions regarding various safety equipment on trains, including emergency call handles or call buttons, emergency door releases, ventilation windows, emergency exits and fire extinguishers. The MTRCL has also compiled a "Travel safely every day in the MTR" booklet. Passengers can ask for a copy from station staff or download it from MTR web site. In the face of this incident, the MTRCL will strengthen its publicity work.
(2) The Hong Kong Police Force attach great importance to public safety and have been actively taking follow-up actions and conducting assessments in respect of the risks of serious crimes or terrorist attacks to major public transport systems, including the MTR. At present, there is no specific intelligence suggesting that Hong Kong is a potential target of terrorist attack, and the threat of terrorist attacks for Hong Kong remains at a "moderate" level. Apart from maintaining close co-operation and liaison with public transport system operators to strengthen the security and response capability of their systems, the Police have also been raising awareness of public safety through community engagement.
     The Police also put a lot of emphasis into communicating with public transport system operators and the general public so as to enhance preparedness. The Critical Infrastructure Security Co-ordination Centre, among others, holds seminars and offers security advice to major public transport system operators to enhance their alertness and response capability to dangerous incidents; while the Railway District educates students and the elderly about passenger safety knowledge and boosts their anti-crime awareness through various community activities such as the "Little Smart Cop", "Senior Smart Cop" and "RAILWATCH". Participants are encouraged to relay the relevant messages to their families and friends with a view to reducing crimes and incidents on railway premises.
     Moreover, the MTRCL has all along put in place operational and safety manuals, covering the contingency arrangements for various incidents (including fire and flooding). The MTRCL would consult government departments in formulation of these manuals. These manuals are applicable to all railway lines. All MTR staff should be conversant with these safety manuals and contingency procedures. In the unfortunate event of an incident, the MTR staff will activate the relevant contingency procedures in the manuals depending on the nature and severity of the incident.  The train captain and station staff will maintain close communication with the OCC while the staff of the OCC will coordinate response actions. Where warranted, train service will be adjusted and additional staff deployed to affected stations to assist passengers. The MTRCL will inform the relevant government departments as soon as possible, including the EMSD and the Transport Department. If railway services are disrupted, the MTRCL will handle properly in accordance with established contingency plan (see Annex). For the alleged arson incident in question, the MTR staff have acted in accordance with safety manuals and contingency procedures.
     The MTRCL has been making use of various channels, such as broadcasts at stations and in trains, passenger information display panels, MTR website and smartphone application "Traffic News", as well as proactively liaising with the media to disseminate train service information, including the occurrence of any unexpected incidents. In the event of major safety incidents, the Government will also disseminate information to the public through the media.
(3) To protect the interests of both the MTRCL and passengers, the Corporation has taken out third party public liability insurance. It offers adequate insurance coverage for the MTRCL against liability for any injury or property loss of any third party arising from the negligence of MTR staff in the course of daily management and operation. Those injured in the suspected arson incident who want to claim compensation may file such a claim with the MTRCL in writing. The Corporation will then refer the claim to its insurer for follow-up. All claims will be considered on individual merits and handled appropriately upon completion of investigation by all parties and confirmation of liabilities.
     Same as the MTRCL, all operators of other public transport services (including franchised buses, public light buses, taxis, trams, franchised and licensed ferries, and non-franchised buses) have complied with statutory requirements by taking out third party liability insurance pursuant to the Motor Vehicles Insurance (Third Party Risks) Ordinance (Cap 272) or Merchant Shipping (Local Vessels) (Amount of Insurance Cover) Notice (Cap 548 sub leg K). Passengers may also consider taking out appropriate insurance policies on their own initiative, where necessary. As we understand, the operators do not take out additional insurance other than that statutorily required. As the public transport services in Hong Kong are operated by commercial organisations based on commercial principles, whether or not to take out additional insurance should be a matter for individual operator to consider and decide.

Note: For example, fire alarms, fire hydrants, fire hose reels and fire extinguishers.
Ends/Wednesday, March 22, 2017
Issued at HKT 16:00
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