The Western Harbour Tunnel Company was under fire on Tuesday for failing to quickly remove a truck stranded on a highway it manages. At 10:19am on Monday, a Citybus double-decker slammed into the rear of the stationary lorry on the West Kowloon Highway, leaving 16 injured and killing the bus driver surnamed So and truck driver surnamed Liem.
Liem’s widow, who was with her husband at the time of the accident, said the lorry had broken down around an hour earlier but was not removed in time. According to dashcam footage viewed by Apple Daily, the lorry was seen at the accident location as early as 9:17am. It was also caught on camera by an i-Cable News dashcam at 9:26am.
Liem had been calling for a tow truck repeatedly without success, and decided to put objects on the highway to warn other drivers, his widow said.
CCTV ‘blind spots’
The tunnel operator said on Tuesday that the accident site was 300 metres away from closed-circuit television cameras, and 500 metres away from the toll booths.
The operator added that it was notified of the broken-down lorry at 10:12am. It then turned on an overhead warning sign and dispatched a patrol car and recovery car, which arrived at the scene seven minutes later – right after the accident had taken place.
However, a Transport Department spokesperson said that the location was under the Western Harbour Tunnel Company’s management and said there were no “blind spots” in CCTV coverage.
The department will examine whether the tunnel operator followed proper procedures, and will ask for improvement measures if they are found to be at fault, the spokesperson added.
In its annual report, the tunnel operator listed “service targets” that included removing immobilised vehicles in an average time of “no more than six minutes,” and dispatching staff to the scene of incidents in “no more than two minutes” on average.
The operator added that their staff were dealing with another traffic accident on Monday morning.
Civic Party lawmaker Jeremy Tam, who is vice-chairperson of the legislature’s panel on transport, criticised the tunnel management’s reaction time.
“The incident happened in the Western Harbour Crossing control area, so the management company has a responsibility to maintain safety. If they say that CCTV did not spot it, that means the loophole existed for many years,” he said, adding that the accident was a preventable one.
Tam also slammed the tunnel operators for not giving a full explanation and potentially misleading the public.
The Hong Kong Tunnel and Highway Employees’ General Union stopped short of criticising the tunnel operator, saying that more information was needed. However, it agreed that the Transport Department should request a report from the tunnel management.
According to Citybus, the deceased driver had been driving the same route for over 10 years, and passed a body check last August. He had taken a sick day on March 1, but it was unknown whether he had taken medicine prior to the accident.
The bus driver’s widow has spoken to local media blaming Citybus for overworking her late husband.