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Building Hong Kong's railway infrastructures

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Following an extra presentation at the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club on 6th October 2011, another interesting and informative event was held on 18th October 2011. The excellent presentation entitled Building Hong Kongs railway infrastructures Construction challenges and risk management was made by T. C. Chew, Project Director of the Mass Transit Railway Corporation Limited (MTR). There was a strong turnout of 91 members and guests.

TC has 30 years of experience in the rail transit industry in the United Kingdom, Singapore, Hong Kong and overseas. Between 2003 and 2008, he was the President of Bombardier London Underground Projects Division. Until 2003, he held the position of Senior Director, Projects and Engineering for the Land Transport Authority of Singapore. By profession, TC is a Chartered Engineer, a fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering and a number of professional institutions in the United Kingdom and Hong Kong.

MTR is the rapid transit railway system in Hong Kong and is one of the most successful railway operators in the world. It is responsible for constructing the future railway network and revitalizing the developed areas of Hong Kong. Apart from infrastructure upgrades, MTR has put forward several railway projects to the Hong Kong Government, with five projects in full swing. The committed and future projects will increase the network to 270 km by 2019 while postponed projects may further increase it to over 300 km. However, during the course of construction, MTR faces various construction challenges and risks.

The presentation highlights the challenges and provides an overview on MTRs risk management approaches to manage risks.

TC began with updates of six new projects. They are: West Island Line (WIL), Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link (Hong Kong section) (XRL), West Kowloon Terminus (WKT), South Island Line (East) (SIL), Kwun Tong Line Extension (KTE) and Shatin to Central Link (SCL). The main purposes of the new projects are to rejuvenate old areas, relieve traffic congestion, enhance economic activities and provide connectivity to densely populated districts.

Particularly, in XRL, opportunities have been created to support future operations which include frequent services and linking Hong Kong and other Chinese major cities. Generally speaking, the projects are progressing satisfactorily with good partnering arrangements.The Kowloon-Canton Railway Corporation (KCRC) won the bid to build and operate SCL in 2002 beforethe KCRC announced modifications to the proposal. Another proposal was floated by MTR to extend the existing Kwun Tong Line to Whampoa Garden in Hung Hom. Both SCL and KTE now belong to MTR after the 2007 rail merger. The section of SCL between Tai Wai and Hung Hom is expected to open in 2015 and the cross harbor section in 2019. The KTE will operate in 2015.

The MTR and contractors face huge challenges during the course of construction. In TCs view, there are four key challenges: tight program, limited time and budget, complex construction and multi-discipline E&M interfaces. They cannot afford not to accomplish the specific project objectives, meeting the criteria of quality, cost and scheduling.

He quoted some examples of major concerns. On the construction safety front, they need to closely control minor accidents and eliminate major ones, and to promote main-sub-contractor relationships because of the high-risk tunneling and lifting works. Note, however, that the above problem solving is prompted by deficiencies in the current construction labour market. There is a clear lack of skilled and experienced workers. Given currently, 6,800 workers are being employed for new railway projects, it is estimated that there will be 17,000 vacancies for new projects in the next five years. Another major issue is the magazine site management.

In the midst of strong objections raised by nearby residents, they need to store the explosives properly overnight andthere are increasing public concerns over the safety handling of explosives at site.
We know that there are a number of stakeholders in the projects, local community, pressure/green groups, political parties, legislative/district councils, to quote a few examples.Railway construction inevitably causes inconvenience and nuisance to nearby residents. There are also adversarial sentiments from certain parties.

The key challenge is the proper way of soliciting full support from the Government and local community. Failing to do so is not an option in any project. In addition, there is significant impact on existing road users and existing utilities. Temporary traffic management schemes are needed to be implemented to improve pedestrian movements. Safety diversion programs of existing utility are also required. This problem solving can only become effective in collaboration with the Government departments. Finally, there are increasing environmental concerns of the general public and green groups. The MTR and its contractor were under fire in June 2011 after their work on the ERL, encroaching on a conservation area in Pat Heung, Yuen Long.

The Environmental Protection Department issued summons to both for offences of felling 54 trees and concreting the entire slope over the conservation area. The MTR is again felling about 4,000 trees in the construction of the SIL, raising concerns from green groups and public about its commitment to protecting Hong Kongs natural environment.

Turning to system improvement and problem solving, TC formulated a risk management framework, a key component of project management, for risk sharing and joint mitigation. The framework is composed of four managerial processes: risk identification, risk register, mitigation measures and risk reporting. Risks are identified from the enterprises and potential corporates, the project itself, and safety and constructability. Regarding the risk control and review, MTR has set up its in-house Risk Management Team to manage all risks including project risks, design safety and constructability, and identify and control hazards for railway extension operational. In this connection, TC also advocated supply chain management and innovative procurement methods of two-stage selection tendering and non-traditional contracts. A target cost contract is designed to promote team involvement, solve team problems, empower team members and develop their trust and commitment with a view to changing individuals to team, conflict to cooperation, and problem to solution.

In conclusion, TC suggested that there will be more challenges ahead. With this in mind, MTR should build up a more robust framework and an innovation approach for risk sharing/tackling. At the same time, it is crucial for MTR to actively engage the stakeholders to fully support the railway construction. More importantly, the smooth project progress relies heavily on the harmonious partnering arrangement among working parties. This good practice ought to be continued, with their cooperation and open dialogue rather than pure communication. Wise project managers do not wait for a challenge or problem before they take remedial action.


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