A routine trip back home from work turned out to be the worst nightmare for more than 1,000 MTR passengers travelling from Admiralty to Tsim Sha Tsui on Friday evening. A fire set by a man reportedly trying to commit suicide gutted the train compartment and injured 18 passengers. Four of them, including the suspected arsonist himself, are listed in critical condition.
The tragedy could have been worse. Should the fire damaged the MTR train so much that it broke down inside the cross-harbor tunnel, one could not imagine the scale of the disaster. An arson case in a South Korean subway train in 2003 killed more than 100 passengers.
The timely response by the MTRC personnel, police and paramedics were also a crucial factor that have helped bring the casualties down. All the security and medical personnel who participated in the rescue should be applauded.
The previous MTR-related arson case happened in January 2004 when a man carrying bottles of thinner and gas canisters set fire in an MTR train going from Tsim Sha Tsui to Admiralty. That time, fortunately, only a dozen passengers were slightly injured.
That both incidents happened at or near the Admiralty MTR station is certainly no coincidence. It is believed that attackers tend to target the cross harbour tunnel because it provides the longest span of time in captivated surrounding.
To prevent similar or worse tragedies from happening, the MTR Corporation must step up security measures along the MTR lines, especially at the interchange hubs like Admiralty. Subsequent to the 2004 incident, transport officials told the Legislative Council that security measures would be enhanced by enforcing the MTR by-laws in prohibiting the carriage of dangerous goods into railway premises. The transport and security authorities and the MTRC must again review the implementation of these by-laws this time and see if they need revision or better enforcement in order to protect the millions of passengers using the mass transport system every day.
Although such serious incidents are rare, passengers should still be more aware of their surroundings instead of lowering their heads to play with their smart phones. They should take note of the locations of emergency exits and, in case of emergencies, render assistance to fellow passengers and MTR personnel if they could do so safely.
In the 2004 arson case, the heroic act of a passenger standing next to the arsonist helped prevent the attack from causing much more harm than what it did. This time we could see passengers helping put out fire in burning compartments and on a passenger lying on the platform. In these disastrous moments when human lives are hanging by a thread, we see the heroic side of human nature. But we hope the authorities concerned would do more to ensure MTR commuters would not have to resort to such heroic acts to save themselves and others again.