- Lawmaker questions security at West Kowloon terminus and accuses MTR of cover-up after incident which happened in early December comes to light
- Transport chief says man missed his stop at Shenzhen North but handed himself in to police after leaving station through emergency exit
A passenger on Hong Kong's high-speed rail from mainland China gained access to the tracks at the West Kowloon terminus, escaped through an emergency exit and evaded immigration clearance, it was revealed on Wednesday.
It prompted a lawmaker to question the station's security and whether the embattled rail operator had covered up the incident, which took place in early December. The revelation came at an already sensitive time as many of Hong Kong's first confirmed cases of the deadly coronavirus had entered the city via the high-speed rail, which was closed on January 30.
The incident was revealed to the Legislative Council on Wednesday after Jeremy Tam Man-ho from the opposition Civic Party submitted an inquiry to the government in February after learning of the case from an MTR Corporation staff member earlier.
In a written reply to Legco, Secretary for Transport and Housing Frank Chan Fan said the mainland Chinese passenger had boarded a train at Changsha South station.
"As far as we know, the passenger intended to travel to Shenzhen North station, (but) forgot to alight," he said.
Chan said the passenger left the train but entered the track area and walked "for a period of time".
"He eventually left the railway premises through an emergency exit of one of the ventilation buildings and turned himself in to police."
According to Tam, the passenger resurfaced in Kwai Chung, about 10km away from the high-speed rail station.
Chan said after turning himself in to police, the passenger was sent back to the mainland "in accordance with the established mechanism".
"The government and MTR Corp are highly concerned about the implications of the incident for the operation and security of the high-speed rail and the MTR Corp is continuing with its in-depth investigation into the incident," he said.
Chan pointed out that under the joint immigration checkpoint arrangement with the mainland Chinese authorities, the railway tracks of the express rail lie within the Hong Kong port area and are subject to the jurisdiction of Hong Kong. However, all express trains and platforms belong to the China port area.
How can the government keep quiet over such a serious security loophole?Jeremy Tam, Civic Party lawmaker
He said all passengers, be they departing or arriving, were not allowed to stay on the platform and the MTR had adopted "appropriate management measures" to ensure passengers' safety.
"When a train arrives, the MTR Corp deploys staff to guard both ends of the platform to prevent passengers from accessing the tracks," he said.
Chan ruled out installing screens on the platforms, saying different models of high-speed trains arrive at the terminus and it was not viable to install doors that would match every one.
"Nonetheless, all platforms of the West Kowloon terminus are fitted with fixed panels at both ends to block the gap between the train's nose or rear and the platform," he said.
Chan also pledged that the rail giant would work with the Security Bureau and other law enforcement agencies to review the incident seeking "to ensure the integrity of the boundary and prevent a recurrence".
However, critics blasted the government and the MTR for keeping the public in the dark about such a security lapse.
"How can the government keep quiet over such a serious security loophole?" Tam asked.
He also questioned whether the route had been used for illegal activities in the past, such as smuggling or human trafficking.
"(The passenger) entered Hong Kong via a ventilation building without going through immigration," Tam said. "(Therefore), it is possible for people to enter the railway through the ventilation buildings and smuggle people onto trains."
He also noted the government had previously said it would be impossible to access the railway tracks from the platforms in the Hong Kong terminus.
"Without the person turning himself to police, people may not know that actually happened," Tam said.
Lawmaker Michael Tien Puk-sun, former chairman of Kowloon-Canton Railway Corporation (KCR), said it was unacceptable that the government and the MTR had failed to disclose the incident at the earliest possible time.
"This is a serious security loophole but they failed to reveal it until the government was questioned by Legco. This is unacceptable," he said.
Tien said long before the high-speed rail came into operation in September 2018, he had warned the government about this loophole but transport officials promised him it was "impossible" for passengers to get on the tracks.
There could be a free flow of illegal immigrants crossing the border without Hongkongers knowing itQuentin Cheng, Public Transport Research Team
Quentin Cheng Hin-kei, spokesman for the commuter concern group Public Transport Research Team, said if the passenger could leave the premises through an emergency exit, it meant there was no alarm system to prevent trespassing.
"There could be a free flow of illegal immigrants crossing the border without Hongkongers knowing it," Cheng warned.
He accused both the government and the MTR of dereliction of duty.
"They should have disclosed this incident to the public but they chose to keep it in the dark. What if this passenger was dangerous? This is totally irresponsible," he said.
Hong Kong Federation of Railway Trade Unions vice-chairman Tam Kin-chiu said it was highly dangerous for a person to enter the rail tracks especially the high-speed railway.
"The person ran the risk for being hit by the train. He would also pose a hazard to other passengers if he forced a high-speed train to make an emergency stop," he said.
The Post has contacted the MTR Corp for comment.
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