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Shatin to Central Link (SCL) - Construction Challenges

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This month's APMHK seminar was held at the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club on 15 May 2012.

The responds are overwhelming and well attended. The interesting talk focuses on the construction challenges on a 17 km long railway project to be built in the densely developed urban area in Hong Kong. It was presented by Ir. Philco Wong, General Manager SCL, Mass Transit Railway Corporation Ltd. (MTR)

Philco holds a bachelors degree in Civil Engineering from the University of Manitoba and a masters degree in Construction Management from the University of Toronto, Ontario, Canada. By profession, Philco is a chartered civil engineer with over 30 years of working experience in construction and engineering in Hong Kong and overseas. He is a Fellow of the Institute of Civil Engineers of the UK and the Hong Kong Institution of Engineers (HKIE). He is also a Professional Engineer in the Province of Ontario and the past Chairman of the Civil Division of the HKIE. He has extensive local experience. Before Philco joined the MTR as General Manager, he started his career as an engineer in Gammon Construction Limited and was the Chief Operating Officer and Executive Director from 2008 responsible for the construction business in Hong Kong, Macau and Mainland China.

The SCL is one of the strategic railway lines recommended in the Railway Development Strategy 2000. The public consultation began in 2008, covering various District Councils and relevant work committee and groups in 18 districts.Gazetted on 26 November 2010, the SCL scheme was authorized by the Chief Executive of the Hong Kong Special Administration Region (HKSAR) on 27 March 2012 with funds subsequently endorsed by the Finance Committee, HKSAR on 11 May 2012. The MTR is entrusted with its planning and design.

Ir. Philco Wong firstly outlined the project details. This 17km long SCL travers several urban districts in Hong Kong. It comprises two sections: Tai Wai to Hung Hom extending the Ma On Shan line (11km) and Hung Hom to Admiralty extending the East Rail Line across the Victoria Harbor (6 km). The SCL will have 10 stations, six of which will be interchanges ones whereby people can change trains to other railway lines. The SCL interfaces with some other infrastructure projects. And as such, some advance works will be performed concurrently at Ho Man Tin Station and Admiralty Station to avoid repeated works and minimize the nuisance and inconvenience that may be caused to the public. The international Mail Centre at the south of Hung Hom Station will be re-provisioned at Kowloon Bay to give way for the tunnel works of the SCL. Protective works will be done at Causeway Bay Typhoon Shelter through which the SCL will pass with SCL tunnel running above the Central-Wan Chai Bypass. The SCL will pass under the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre Phases I and II in Wan Chai and the water channel between them. So, another protective work of a 70m long concrete shell under the water mains of Wan Chai Development Phase II will also be carried out to avoid impact on these water mains.

The environmental and heritage preservation is an equally important issue to be addressed as in the proposed development of the third airport runway. The MTR will implement necessary measures to minimize the adverse effects on the public and the environment. Noticeably, mitigated measures are proposed to suppress dust, reduce noise, manage wastes, prevent contamination and protect trees. The independent consultants have been appointed to conduct environmental and impact assessment studies to assess the construction impact caused by the SCL on the environment.

No doubt, constructability of the SCL works is definitely a huge challenge. Ir. Philco Wong shared with the audience other non-technical challenges of the SCL project. During the current boom of the infrastructure projects in Hong Kong, there exists an acute shortage of labor resources. Of the 217,000 strong labor force, only 16,000 to 17,000 of them are active. Added to it is the clear mismatch of timing of construction and operation of the infrastructures and the supply of human resources. The original planning of labor therefore becomes dated and ineffective. There will be a serious labor issue next year, according to Ir. Philco Wong. Turning to the professional grades, he said new recruits were badly needed. All too frequently, with a 1.5 offers, on average, to the graduates of the civil engineering discipline, currently, consultancy firms have great difficulties in recruiting a graduate engineer at HK$18,000 per month, a market price relative to HK$12,000 - HK$13,000 last year. With this in mind, the consultants retention plans will focus not only on the pay rise but also, more importantly, on the staff career development.

Another huge challenge is the site safety. Accident rates in Hong Kong construction industry still dominate to be one of the most dangerous industries. Currently, consultants are doing too much paper works on safety issues. Strictly speaking, these paper works could not improve safety much. Instead, Ir. Philco Wong opined that Safety Officers should spend 70 percent of their time at site, monitoring and controlling the occupational health and safety system of work. Another issue is about the mentality of people. People normally over-react to site safety. And the current strategy of accident management is passive, it works only after the accidents have occurred. It is only a window dressing and it does not really address the issue adequately. We should change this irrational behavior, educate them, treating safety training as a mentality training rather than a technical training. Finally, Ir. Philco Wong suggested a bottom-up approach be a more sophisticated method for solving the problem.


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