About 50 of Hong Kong’s battered MTR stations will sport a fortified look at their entrances as the city’s embattled rail operator seeks to protect facilities from vandalism by protesters, the Post has learned.
The MTR Corporation has completed strengthening structures at exits of stations such as Mong Kok, Central, HKU, Tung Chung and Tai Wai, which have suffered severe attacks by violent radicals amid the months-long anti-government movement.
The rail giant has been targeted because of accusations it colluded with police and bowed to pressure from Beijing. Hong Kong has been locked in social unrest since June, sparked by the now-withdrawn extradition bill.
An MTR Corp spokeswoman confirmed to the Post that fortification works had been carried out.
“In view of the recent public processions and following risk assessment, the corporation has installed temporary metal panels to enhance protection for glass screens at some of the heavy rail stations and their entrances, including exit C of HKU station,” she said.
The spokeswoman said the protective measure was only temporary and removal of the extra panels would depend on the unrest in the city.
At Prince Edward station, where protesters have set up a makeshift shrine to mourn three unknown protesters whom they claimed died there amid clashes with police on August 31, access facilities had been vandalised. The spokeswoman said the affected entrance had been temporarily boarded up for repairs and would be opened once works were finished.
The MTR Corp has closed services early for almost the entire month of October following extensive damage wrought by radical protesters. On October 5, it was forced to shut down the entire network for the first time in its 40-year history as citywide protests rocked Hong Kong.
While the MTR Corp said it needed more time for repairs, critics have accused it of helping the government impose a de facto curfew by ending train services early, a charge the rail giant has rejected.
As of October 13, protesters had caused extensive damage at 85 out of 94 heavy rail stations and 57 of 68 light rail stations, setting fires, smashing equipment and ripping out fixtures. More than 1,300 turnstiles, 800 ticketing and add-value machines, 900 surveillance cameras, 100 lifts and escalators, and 90 sets of roller shutters were seriously damaged.
Hong Kong Federation of Railway Trade Unions vice-chairman Tam Kin-chiu said the fortified look of some station entrances formed part of the MTR Corp’s plan to make facilities more resistant to attacks.
“For station entrances and customer service centres which had exterior glass walls destroyed, the damaged parts will be installed with materials such as iron or steel boards for protection against vandalism,” he said. “This is the plan of the company to strengthen protection for its facilities. Metal shields have also been erected at our staff rooms,” he added.
In a meeting with the union early last month, MTR Corp CEO Jacob Kam Chak-pui vowed to step up security “at all costs” to enhance protection measures.
Tam said he welcomed such efforts as they would also enhance safety for passengers and staff.
However, he admitted that the new look was “unpleasant”, pointing out it would last until the political crisis came to an end.
“The appearance of these entrances are now quite hideous, like a fortress rather than a subway station. It also affects the image of the MTR. But now safety is more important than looks, so we have to live with it,” he said.
Quentin Cheng Hin-kei, spokesman of commuter concern group Public Transport Research Team, described the new look as “horrible”, wondering if tourists would be able to recognise the stations. He also poured cold water on the protective measures.
“Even if the MTR has fortified some station facilities, protesters can still find ways to attack other vulnerable areas. I think only if the MTR ends the de facto curfew and stops helping police will the attacks stop,” he said.
To Kwong-yan, MTR Corporation Staff Union chairman, agreed, saying the protective measures would not help much if protesters continued their vandalism. “If the government still refuses to resolve its conflict with protesters and continues to use a high-handed approach in dealing with them, there will be nothing to stop them from attacking the MTR stations,” he said.
One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors.