LCQ5: Emergency closure of Kap Shui Mun Bridge

     Following is a question by the Hon Tam Yiu-Chung and a reply by the Secretary for Transport and Housing, Professor Anthony Cheung Bing-leung, in the Legislative Council today (November 11):

Question:

     On the night of the 23rd of last month, Kap Shui Mun Bridge connecting Ma Wan and Tsing Chau Tsai Peninsula of Lantau Island was struck by a vessel, triggering the ship impact alarms of the Bridge.  As a result, all lanes of Kap Shui Mun Bridge and Tsing Ma Bridge were closed to facilitate inspection by engineering staff.  During the closure period, no vehicle could enter or leave Lantau Island and the train services of the MTR Airport Express and Tung Chung Line were also suspended.  As land transport to and from Lantau Island was paralysed for nearly two hours, the airport and Lantau Island suddenly became isolated and close to ten thousand travellers were stranded at various stations along the Airport Express.  Some members of the public have criticized the Transport Department (TD) for failing to respond expeditiously after the occurrence of the incident and for disseminating information in a confusing manner.  They are worried that if a similar incident happens again during the peak period of outbound travel, the impact on the public will be even greater.  In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(1) given that the Emergency Transport Coordination Centre (the Centre) under TD is responsible for monitoring and handling traffic and public transport incidents 24-hour a day, whether the authorities have reviewed if the Centre disseminated accurate information relating to the aforesaid incident (including information on temporary traffic arrangements) to members of the public promptly after the occurrence of the incident, and how they will improve the arrangements for the provision of temporary relief transport services by public transport operators; of the details of the Centre's information dissemination mechanism and why the mechanism failed to perform effectively in the aforesaid incident; and

(2) as the Tuen Mun-Chek Lap Kok Link (the Link) currently under construction will be the second trunk road connecting the airport and Lantau Island with other areas, of the authorities' measures to ensure that the Link can be completed on schedule in 2018; and the factors which may affect the completion date?

Reply:

President,

     Our consolidated reply to the question raised by the Hon Tam Yiu-chung is as follows:

     The Emergency Transport Coordination Centre (ETCC) of the Transport Department (TD) monitors traffic condition 24-hour a day.  Its main task is to liaise and coordinate among government departments, public transport operators and relevant organisations on the handling of traffic incidents.  It also disseminates the latest traffic information to the public.

     On the night of October 23 when Kap Shui Mun Bridge was struck by a vessel, the ETCC had not released the news of the closure of the bridge in the first instance.  According to my understanding from the TD, the ETCC had first liaised with all public transport operators and the Airport Authority Hong Kong (AA) at that time for making appropriate remedial arrangements promptly, such as adjusting the service and relieving the crowding of passengers and tourists, and suspending the airport bus service at the termini to avoid aggravating road congestion, etc. 

     After the incident, the TD reviews and agrees that the ETCC should have informed the public of the closure of the bridge and the contingency traffic arrangements earlier.  Should similar incidents happen in the future, the ETCC will inform the public of the road closure and contact and coordinate with public transport operators and the AA at the same time.  When making the announcement, the TD should also let the public know that contingency plans have been activated by the Government, including arranging emergency ferries to provide limited service, and reminding the public to consider adjusting their journey and to keep abreast of the latest information.  To further improve the channel of information dissemination, the TD is considering putting in plan a mobile phone application for the dissemination of special traffic news so that the public can get hold of the latest situation directly and immediately. 

     As regards the provision of emergency alternative transport services on the night of the incident, the TD had taken action in accordance with the established contingency traffic plan.  On one hand, the TD requested the Discovery Bay ferry operator to enhance the frequency of services between Central and Discovery Bay which had carried a total of about 4 500 passenger trips.  At the same time, the TD had requested the strengthening of the bus feeder service between Discovery Bay and the Airport/Tung Chung.  On the other hand, based on the emergency ferry services agreement signed between the TD and the Hong Kong & Kowloon Motor Boats & Tug Boats Association Ltd (MBTA), the TD requested the MBTA to have the first boat arrived within two hours to take passengers pursuant to the agreement.  The MBTA later confirmed that they were able to provide at least four sailings (i.e. two sailing each time) of emergency ferry services between Tsuen Wan West Pier and Tung Chung Development Pier at 10pm and 10.30pm with a total carrying capacity of around 700 passengers.  However, since the Lantau Link had re-opened at around 9.40pm that night, the planned emergency ferry services was not needed.  The ETCC had therefore not informed the public of the emergency ferry services arrangements.

     On that night, the ETCC informed the public of the enhanced frequency of Discovery Bay ferry services and the feeder buses only when it had ensured that they were ready.  In the same vein, the ETCC also released information to the public only after it had confirmed the details of the service provided by the MBTA.  This is to avoid the public receiving incomplete information when the whole set of emergency service was not ready yet, which may create problems.  For example, the public would be informed of the service and pier location of emergency ferries but not the departure time and frequency of the service; or the availability of emergency service but not how to connect to various locations on the Lantau Island.  In hindsight, early dissemination of information and continuous updating would be a more desirable arrangement as a whole for the public who were already quite anxious.

     To comprehensively review the contingency plans in response to the incident, and consider how to prevent similar incidents from happening again in the future.  I chaired an inter-departmental meeting on October 29.  The meeting has initially identified four areas for follow up.  

     Firstly, it is "Contingency".  We will adjust the alarm system so that key departments and organisations, including the Marine Department (MD), TD, Highways Department (HyD), AA and Mass Transit Railway Corporation Limited etc. be notified concurrently, and are aware that when the bridge alarm is triggered, full closure of the bridge would be required for emergency inspection.  Secondly, it is "Communication" - to enable the pubic to learn about emergency incidents and the relevant contingency arrangements more promptly and comprehensively.  The TD and the AA will develop a one-stop platform for information dissemination as soon as possible.  

     Thirdly, it is "Control" to minimise risks of similar hit impact on the bridge.  At present, the Lantau Link and Airport Express is the only land links connecting Lantau and other parts of Hong Kong.  In case of full closure of land links, the relevant contingency measures have their limitations.  For instance, the capacity and speed of sea ferries cannot be compared with that of land transport.  Therefore, it is imperative that we prevent similar incidents from happening again.  In the light of this incident, the MD will seek to secure resources to strengthen marine patrols around the height restricted area of the bridge.

     Lastly, it is about enhancing "external connectivity" between Lantau Island and the Airport Island.  Upon commissioning of the Tuen Mun-Chek Lap Kok Link (see attached map) which is now being constructed, it will provide another route to connect Lantau, including the Airport with urban areas.  The project is 9km-long.  The completion time of the Southern Connection will tie in with that of the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge Main Bridge whilst the Northern connection is targeted for completion in 2018.  As the project is massive and complicated, and it involves sub-sea tunnel boring works, it is unavoidable that various challenges and risks will inevitably be encountered.  The HyD will closely monitor progress of the project and will endeavour to overcome its technical difficulties.

Ends/Wednesday, November 11, 2015
Issued at HKT 15:19