MTR's maintenance staff race against time to tug away the two trains that collided during a test run while carrying no passengers on Monday. Photo: Handout

Hong Kong’s trusty subway operator MTR Corporation was jolted out of any complacency it might have been suffering from after a train collision on Monday, the first such accident in its 40 years of service.

MTR swiftly towed away mangled compartments and cleared debris on tracks after two empty trains sideswiped each other near the city’s Central station in the early hours of Monday morning. The accident took place during a trial run to test a new HK$3.3 billion (US$420 million) signaling system aimed at boosting capacity. The two drivers involved suffered minor injuries

Service between Central and Admiralty stations in the city’s busy central business district was partially suspended for two days.

Now facing public clamor over the safety of its service, a blame game is on as MTR, the operator of a profitable service renowned for its reliability, has blamed the accident on negligence of major software supplier Thales. However the Paris-based multinational, together with its Canadian subsidiary that designed the new rail signaling solutions, has hit back at what it terms MTR’s lack of a trained eye for risks when conducting tests.

The crash happened at a crossing near Central and Admiralty stations. And the interior of a mangled passenger compartment reveals the destructive force of the impact. Photos: Handouts

MTR’s account of the collision on the Tsuen Wan Line is that the crash happened after a failure by Thales to run a simulation beforehand of the particular scenario that was the subject of Monday’s trial run. This, according to MTR, along with a software error in the new system, SelTrac, simultaneously assigned the same crossing to two trains. However, local newspapers report that Thales insists it had not received a request for such a simulation.

MTR said earlier that the incident occurred during tests which simulated switching to a second backup system during peak hours with trains traveling close to each another, after the main and the first backup systems both failed to marshal trains.

There are reports that MTR will sue Thales for damages. Although the rail operator may have a strong case, experts say the company could have also failed to notify Thales to simulate all scenarios, including the trial run to switch to a second backup system.

Amaury Jourdan, vice-president for Thales’ technical and transport activity, earlier told Hong Kong papers that there was “nothing wrong” with the design of the software, saying the issue was related to the specific “redundancy architecture” for the Hong Kong system, hinting that MTR’s request for a second backup system was to blame for the doomed test run.

The accident forced MTR to suspend train service partially between Central and Admiralty stations for two days this week, leading to overcrowding in the two stations that serve the city’s CBD. Photo: Asia Times

Meanwhile, the signaling system allegedly at fault was also behind a morning rush-hour crash in Singapore in November 2017, in which 36 passengers and two employees were injured after a packed train rear-ended another stationary train at the city’s Joo Koon Station.

According to Singapore’s Land Transport Authority, the collision was caused by a “software logic issue” that prevented communication between equipment on board the train and trackside. A string of software flaws meant that a safety feature devised to ensure the maintaining of sufficient distances between trains was disabled, and Thales was said to have fixed the issue that year.

As well as Singapore, the London Underground is using similar technology to modernize its signaling infrastructure on the Jubilee and Northern lines.

Thales, in a consortium with fellow French company Alstom, was awarded the contract to install new signaling and upgrade the systems on seven of MTR’s 11 lines.

Asia Times Financial is now live. Linking accurate news, insightful analysis and local knowledge with the ATF China Bond 50 Index, the world's first benchmark cross sector Chinese Bond Indices. Read ATF now. 

Join the Conversation

18 Comments

  1. I do love the manner in which you have framed this particular matter and it does present me personally some fodder for thought. Nevertheless, because of everything that I have personally seen, I basically wish as the feedback pile on that individuals stay on issue and not embark upon a soap box regarding the news of the day. All the same, thank you for this superb piece and whilst I do not necessarily go along with it in totality, I regard the point of view.

  2. whoah this blog is fantastic i love reading your articles. Keep up the good work! You know, a lot of people are hunting around for this info, you could help them greatly.

  3. I don’t even know the way I finished up here, however I assumed this put up was once good. I don’t realize who you’re but definitely you are going to a famous blogger if you are not already Cheers!

  4. Thanks a lot for providing individuals with an exceptionally wonderful opportunity to read from this site. It is usually so beneficial and as well , full of amusement for me personally and my office peers to visit your website really 3 times a week to find out the newest guidance you will have. Not to mention, I’m always astounded concerning the perfect methods served by you. Selected 1 points in this post are unquestionably the most efficient we have all ever had.

  5. After examine a couple of of the blog posts on your website now, and I really like your means of blogging. I bookmarked it to my bookmark website listing and might be checking back soon. Pls take a look at my site as well and let me know what you think.

  6. Hi! I know this is kinda off topic nevertheless I’d figured I’d ask. Would you be interested in trading links or maybe guest authoring a blog post or vice-versa? My blog discusses a lot of the same subjects as yours and I think we could greatly benefit from each other. If you’re interested feel free to shoot me an email. I look forward to hearing from you! Terrific blog by the way!

  7. Greetings from Carolina! I’m bored to tears at work
    so I decided to check out your site on my iphone during lunch break.
    I enjoy the knowledge you present here and can’t wait
    to take a look when I get home. I’m amazed at how fast your blog loaded on my cell phone ..
    I’m not even using WIFI, just 3G .. Anyways, awesome site!

  8. Unquestionably believe that which you stated. Your favorite reason seemed to be on the web the simplest thing to be aware of. I say to you, I definitely get annoyed while people think about worries that they plainly don’t know about. You managed to hit the nail upon the top as well as defined out the whole thing without having side-effects , people can take a signal. Will probably be back to get more. Thanks

  9. hello there and thank you for your info – I have definitely picked up something new from right here.

    I did however expertise a few technical issues using this website, as I experienced to reload the web site lots
    of times previous to I could get it to load correctly. I had been wondering if your web hosting is OK?

    Not that I am complaining, but slow loading instances times will very frequently affect your placement in google and can damage your high-quality score if advertising and marketing with
    Adwords. Well I am adding this RSS to my e-mail and could look out for a
    lot more of your respective interesting content.

    Make sure you update this again very soon.

  10. Hi, i think that i saw you visited my website thus i came to “return the favor”.I am
    trying to find things to enhance my site!I suppose
    its ok to use some of your ideas!!

  11. Hey there just wanted to give you a quick heads up. The text in your content seem to be running off the screen in Opera. I’m not sure if this is a format issue or something to do with web browser compatibility but I figured I’d post to let you know. The layout look great though! Hope you get the problem solved soon. Cheers

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *