Hundreds of passengers are kicking up a new storm after being stranded in stations for eight hours - enough time to travel to Beijing on an express train - when Typhoon Vicente disrupted East Rail services. The storm brought down power cables between University and Tai Po Market stations, landing the operator in a sea of criticism. Hundreds of weary passengers had to spend the night at Tai Wai and Fo Tan stations and in train compartments after the train services were stopped. To make matters worse, some said they were asked by staff to leave the station.
The government has asked the MTR to hand in a report within three days and the Transport Department will meet the company next week. Secretary for Transportation and Housing Anthony Cheung Bing-leung last night described the stranding as an unexpected accident, but said it was "very reasonable" for the MTR to arrange for passengers to stay inside the stations as, besides safety concerns, there was no public transportation available. The MTR's chief of operations Adi Lau Tin-shing said falling trees brought down the cables after typhoon signal No 9 was hoisted at 11.20 on Monday night, hitting the electricity supply to five trains in the section. Two managed to get back to the station after fallen trees were removed and cables repaired. The others were towed by special locomotives to the nearest stations. Lau said that under its guidelines, all trains in open areas are stopped when the No 9 signal or higher is hoisted. "Based on safety considerations, we needed to stop East Rail operations immediately and move the trains to the nearest stations," Lau said. "This is the safest arrangement for passengers."
Since the electricity supply was not stable in other sections, all East Rail services were stopped around midnight. A stranded passenger told the MTR: "The arrangement is really bad. You cannot do what you promise. You leave us outside and do not take care of us."
A passenger who got on at Kowloon Tong at 11.30pm said it did not reach Tai Wai until 12.10am. Since the service on the Ma On Shan line had stopped, he was forced to stay in the station. A passenger heading to Sheung Shui was stuck for more than two hours at Tai Po Market. "They said there were no more trains and asked me to leave," he said. "What could I do as there was no public transport at the time?" Lau said since the weather was bad, shuttle buses could not be arranged.
"When we brought the passengers back to the various stations safely, the weather outside was very bad," he said. "Around that time, public buses had also stopped and so we decided the safest way for our passengers was for them to stay in the station." He said staff gave them boards to use as mattresses and water to drink. Lau admitted the MTR paid HK$200 to several angry passengers to take taxis.
Messages circulated on the internet that the MTR had paid HK$400. Services resumed at 5.30am yesterday and the East Rail was back in full service at 7.30am. Transport panel chairman and independent lawmaker Andrew Cheng Kar- foo slammed the MTR. The No 10 signal, the first in 13 years, was raised early yesterday morning. All signals were lowered by 11.15 last night.
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