A major residential-commercial complex near Hong Kong’s West Kowloon terminus is believed to be sinking due to the construction of the rail station, as the scandal-hit operator MTR Corporation gets set to open the high-speed rail line to mainland China later this month.
Cracks have been found in concrete walls in the upmarket Elements shopping centre and its attached high-rise residential development the Waterfront, which sits across the road from the station.
The pavement outside a transport interchange at the complex also shows signs of settlement, forming a hole more than 200 millimetres deep in the ground.
The MTR and the Highways Departments said subsidence readings in the area had not exceeded safety limits, but an engineering expert told FactWire that ground vibration from the future high-speed trains could cause the settlement problem to intensify.
Signs of settlement are mainly located in the east of the massive real estate development atop the Kowloon MTR station, where a dual two-lane underpass was built beneath Lin Cheung Road, a dual carriageway between the Waterfront apartment towers and the West Kowloon terminus, as part of the $88.4bn Express Rail Link project.
Uneven surfaces can still be found on Lin Cheung Road after apparent repaving work, while dozens of marble panels on a wall at the base of the Waterfront complex facing the road have cracked, with the largest crack measuring at 60 millimetres wide.
At the adjacent entrance of a public transport interchange under the Waterfront, there is a 7-metre long diagonal crack, with some tiles having already fallen off from the wall.
Ground subsidence has also caused a hole more than 200 millimetres deep on a pavement next to the dual carriageway.
Cracks have also appeared in a 100-metre-long wall on the first floor where a kindergarten and three community services centres are located, including seven floor-to-ceiling cracks in a section about 22 metres long at a walkway connecting the complex to Elements. It is, however, unclear whether they are related to the cracks that exist around the same area below.
Patching work has apparently been carried out to cover the cracks, although some remain visible.
A source who worked in Elements earlier told FactWire that cracks had appeared in the shop’s floor and walls since 2015, adding that some shops were not able to close their storefront gates because of the cracking. A photo taken in mid-2017 shows that one of the cracks in the store is about one centimetre wide.
Most of the walls in the shopping centre are now covered by external panels, making any cracking very difficult to detect.
After inspecting the cracking in the Waterfront complex, veteran civil engineer Ngai Hok-yan said the crack at the transport interchange was either caused by ground subsidence or piling works in nearby construction sites, adding that ground vibration from high-speed trains at the West Kowloon station could make the situation deteriorate in the future.
The cracks in wall panels along Lin Cheung Road were also likely caused by the sinking road, he said.
“It is useless to paint over cracks because they will break again very quickly. The concrete has to be torn up in order to inspect the damage the structure has sustained,’ he said.
He added that crack monitoring devices should be installed if there was any confirmed damage to the building.
In a written response, the Highway Department told FactWire that settlement readings around Elements did not exceed predetermined limits that require construction work to be suspended, adding that there were no reports of any structural damage to buildings surrounding the West Kowloon station site.
The MTR said: “In general, when the settlement readings reach the set thresholds during the works period, the project team needs to implement appropriate follow-up measures in accordance with the action plan. The monitoring data is also regularly submitted to relevant government departments for review.”
“Monitoring will continue after the construction work is completed to ensure the safety of surrounding buildings and underground tunnels.’”
The Buildings Department said it had not received any damage report regarding the structural integrity of the Elements shopping centre.
Neither the Highways Department nor the MTR has provided the number of monitoring points set up in the area nor the settlement data from these points.
In 2011, A joint venture between construction firms Leighton and Gammon was awarded a $8.9bn contract to build the West Kowloon terminus, but the project was found to be going over-budget and years behind schedule in 2014.
Leighton is also involved in a corner-cutting scandal at the Hung Hom station site of the future Shatin-Central link.