HONG KONGs MTR is under Fire from Protesters … could it impact Australian Services?

Funny now … how could this happen …
Could it be the due diligence didn’t show a drop of evidence?

Indeed was it designed not to?

Was anything overlooked, or subject to assurances that were only implied?

Were our selection processes so easily read that all the difficult matters could be anticipated, and therefore overcome without much bother?

Were the desired outcomes such as frequency, driverless operations, separation from the rest of the network, and contracted operations more important than issues like …

-security of the management systems

And whatever else may surface …

Hong Kong’s rail operator MTR is under fire from protesters — could it impact Australian services?

By Alan Weedon

16 DECEMBER 2019

A graphic of Melbourne and Sydney metro trains trailing off in opposite directions with Hong Kong's MTR logo between them.

PHOTO: Hong Kong’s railway expertise is found around the globe, including in Melbourne and Sydney. (ABC News: GFX/Jarrod Fankhauser)

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In 2009, Melburnians were promised a rail network that would be akin to that of Hong Kong’s — reliable, on time, and one that could keep up with a rapidly growing population.

Key points:

  • Hong Kong’s subway operator, MTR, has been criticised by pro-democracy protesters
  • It is a part of Australian franchises that run rail services in Sydney and Melbourne
  • Pro-democracy advocates say Australia should reconsider its links to MTR

That was because Hong Kong’s majority state-owned Mass Transit Railway (MTR) Corporation was to take over Melbourne’s much-criticised private operator, Connex.

MTR has a reputation as a world-leader in rail reliability and financial management, and repeatedly boasts of its 99.9 per cent punctuality rate.

This has prompted envy among governments around the globe, some of which have sought to replicate MTR’s magic by either bringing the Corporation in to run rail services in full, or via franchises.

However in recent months, MTR’s efficient, corporate sheen has literally and figuratively come under fire from Hong Kong’s anti-government protesters, who blame the operator for stifling their freedom of movement amid the city’s mass pro-democracy protests.

This has plunged MTR into an unprecedented crisis, which has seen its assets, including carriages and tracks, vandalised by protesters across the city.

A fire burns at the entrance of central station in Hong Kong.

PHOTO: MTR stations have been set on fire amid the protests. (AP: Kin Cheung)

With criticism piling up, it remains unclear if the beleaguered MTR can bounce back and whether it can stop disquiet about the company spreading to the services it’s linked to overseas, including those in Sydney and Melbourne.

But to understand how perceptions of the service swiftly derailed at home, you need to first understand MTR’s links to the Hong Kong Government and the role it played at the start of the protest movement.

‘MTR has been complicit in stopping protests’

The relationship between MTR and the Hong Kong Government, which retains a 75 per cent stake in the company, has become a focal point for anti-government protesters who are demonstrating against the city’s eroding freedoms under Chinese rule.

During the first weeks of the protest movement, it was the MTR that zipped demonstrators around the city as part of the protesters’ “be water” strategy, where they would quickly disperse and reappear in other places in order to keep police on their toes.

Dissolving like water

In sweltering heat, pro-democracy demonstrators keep authorities on their toes all night, using the train system to effectively move from one place to the next in an effort to spread police resources thin.

But according to activist Jane Poon, a spokeswoman for Melbourne-based community organisation Australia-Hong Kong Link,this all changed after clashes on August 31.

“On that night police laid siege to Prince Edward Station, violently assaulting protesters, bystanders and ordinary passengers inside the station and train carriages indiscriminately,” Ms Poon told the ABC.

MTR shut down the station during and after the attack, baring medics and first aiders from entering the station.

“The company sealed off the station for two days afterwards, despite only minor damage to the station during the siege.”

Ms Poon said Australia-Hong Kong Link members had reached a “consensus” on MTR after its opaque handling of the alleged police attack, suspension of services and decision to close train stations.

“MTR has been complicit in stopping pro-democracy protests and assisting the Government’s crackdown,” she said.

Tom Grundy@tomgrundyReplying to @tomgrundy @holmeschan_

TV news footage showed riot police beating people with their batons inside train carriages at Prince Edward station and deploying pepper spray, with many passengers seen to be cowering and bleeding: https://www.hongkongfp.com/2019/09/01/violence-erupts-across-hong-kong-police-fire-warning-shots-mtr-closes-5-lines-officers-storm-train-carriage/#HongKong … #China #hongkongprotests #antiELAB

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In a press release published a week after the incident, MTR said extra time was required to repair damage to Prince Edward Station.

But this has not extinguished protester cynicism, and they have continued to press MTR to release CCTV footage from the night to reveal what actually happened.

An image of Hong Kong's Prince Edward metro station shuttered and blanketed with white flowers around its perimeter.

PHOTO: Protesters criticised MTR’s decision to close Prince Edward Station after police clashed with protesters in August. (AP: Kin Cheung)

So far, the company has only released stills from CCTV vision showing medics evacuating the injured.

None of the released stills show scuffles between protesters and police; MTR attributed the missing vision to camera vandalism.

Ms Poon said while MTR initially “operated in an apolitical manner” when the protests first erupted, she believed its stance changed after facing criticism from Chinese state media outlets which have at times accused the service of assisting “rioters”.

Fences block off people from accessing the airport.

PHOTO: MTR has previously denied access to protesters seeking to disrupt the Hong Kong’s airport rail line. (AP: Kin Cheung)

In response to the claims about its allegiance, MTR told the ABC train services were reduced after the August 31 incident due to damage inflicted by “rioters”, adding that allegations that it was deliberately closing stations were “totally unfounded”.

“In order to protect the safety of passengers and staff amid the increasing threats posed by escalating vandalism and violent acts, we have to conduct risk assessment and take suitable measures including station closures and any necessary train service regulations in response to the changing situation,” it said in a statement.

The statement also noted that various threats, including arson and petrol bombs attacks, had been made against MTR’s tracks, trains and facilities.

A large fireball erupts in front of a shuttered train station after a black-clad protester throws a petrol bomb.

PHOTO: Protesters threw petrol bombs at MTR station entrances earlier this month. (Reuters: Leah Millis)

How vulnerable are Australian services to MTR’s woes?

In Victoria, Metro Trains Melbourne (MTM) operates the city’s train service, while in New South Wales, Metro Trains Sydney (MTS) — or Sydney Metro Northwest — runs the city’s recently-completed automated train line between Tallawong and Chatswood.

While the two services sound similar, they are actually two separate consortiums, of which MTR has a 60 per cent stake in each.

Why Sydney’s transport is doomed

Sydneysiders could be forgiven for asking why they don’t have a subway like Paris or London, but that’s not the answer. Sydney’s transport problems are more complicated than that.

Metro Trains Australia (MTA) — the parent company of MTM and sibling to MTS — told the ABC there were “no plans at this time” to make contingency arrangements in response toa possible deterioration in Hong Kong’s political or economic situation.

A horizontal composite image shows two trains, one bearing NSW Government colours, and another bearing the Melbourne Metro logo.

PHOTO: Hong Kong’s MTR holds a 60 per cent stake in franchises that operate trains in Sydney and Melbourne. (Wikimedia Commons)

“MTA has been closely monitoring the situation in Hong Kong and is particularly aware of the safety of our customers and employees,” Leah Waymark, MTA’s CEO, told the ABC.

“We will continue to assess what we are seeing in Hong Kong.”

John Stone, a lecturer in transport planning at the Melbourne School of Design, told the ABC that any deterioration in Hong Kong’s political situation should not be a concern for Australian rail operators linked to MTR.

“The important thing to remember is that we haven’t given ownership of the track or rolling stock [trains] to a private company — all of those things remain in state hands,” he said referring to Melbourne’s setup.

“All we’ve done is give MTR, through MTM, the right to operate the services, manage staff and [carry out] maintenance.”

Australian commuters asked to ‘carefully reconsider’ MTR

Commuters crowd on a platform at Flinders Street Station.

PHOTO: Hong Kong democracy advocates in Australia are questioning state government links to MTR. (ABC News: Danielle Bonica)

Ms Poon said it was Australia-Hong Kong Link’s view that both “the NSW and Victorian Governments should carefully reconsider the relationship with MTR as a contractor”.

“Given the tragic events that are unfolding in Hong Kong and the willingness of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to dictate and control state-owned corporations to advance its political agenda, we question whether it is wise for the two state governments to allow a company heavily under the influence of the CCP to manage the states’ most vital infrastructures,” she said.

Hong Kong’s countdown to 2047

Hong Kong was handed back to China with no framework for what would happen after the year 2047, leaving the city to carve an identity out of two ideologically opposed empires.

Asked about the concerns, a Victorian Government spokesperson told the ABC its focus was to “work with Metro Trains Melbourne to deliver the best service for Melbourne passengers”.

NSW Transport Minister Andrew Constance’s spokesperson said the NSW Government “remains confident the Northwest Rapid Transit consortium, of which MTR is a member, has the capacity to perform its contractual obligations to Sydney Metro”.

Meanwhile, MTR told the ABC Hong Kong’s ongoing “situation” would have “no impact” on its obligations overseas.

A view a stationary train carriage up close with its windows smashed, doors open, and tree debris scattered in its interior.

PHOTO: A vandalised train carriage at a MTR stop near the Chinese University of Hong Kong. (AFP: Anthony Wallace)

SOURCE: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-12-15/could-hong-kong-unrest-mtr-impact-melbourne-and-sydney-rail/11721280