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Hong Kong's rail network is considered a world-leader, and it has exported its franchises to Melbourne and Sydney. But could the Asian city's ongoing unrest derail our services?
That was because Hong Kong's majority state-owned Mass Transit Railway (MTR) Corporation was to take over Melbourne's much-criticised private operator, Connex.
MTR has a reputation as a world-leader in rail reliability and financial management, and repeatedly boasts of its 99.9 per cent punctuality rate.
This has prompted envy among governments around the globe, some of which have sought to replicate MTR's magic by either bringing the Corporation in to run rail services in full, or via franchises.
However in recent months, MTR's efficient, corporate sheen has literally and figuratively come under fire from Hong Kong's anti-government protesters, who blame the operator for stifling their freedom of movement amid the city's mass pro-democracy protests.
This has plunged MTR into an unprecedented crisis, which has seen its assets, including carriages and tracks, vandalised by protesters across the city.
With criticism piling up, it remains unclear if the beleaguered MTR can bounce back and whether it can stop disquiet about the company spreading to the services it's linked to overseas, including those in Sydney and Melbourne.
But to understand how perceptions of the service swiftly derailed at home, you need to first understand MTR's links to the Hong Kong Government and the role it played at the start of the protest movement.
'MTR has been complicit in stopping protests'
The relationship between MTR and the Hong Kong Government, which retains a 75 per cent stake in the company, has become a focal point for anti-government protesters who are demonstrating against the city's eroding freedoms under Chinese rule.
During the first weeks of the protest movement, it was the MTR that zipped demonstrators around the city as part of the protesters' "be water" strategy, where they would quickly disperse and reappear in other places in order to keep police on their toes.
But according to activist Jane Poon, a spokeswoman for Melbourne-based community organisation Australia-Hong Kong Link, this all changed after clashes on August 31.
"On that night police laid siege to Prince Edward Station, violently assaulting protesters, bystanders and ordinary passengers inside the station and train carriages indiscriminately," Ms Poon told the ABC.
"MTR shut down the station during and after the attack, baring medics and first aiders from entering the station.
"The company sealed off the station for two days afterwards, despite only minor damage to the station during the siege."
Ms Poon said Australia-Hong Kong Link members had reached a "consensus" on MTR after its opaque handling of the alleged police attack, suspension of services and decision to close train stations.
"MTR has been complicit in stopping pro-democracy protests and assisting the Government's crackdown," she said.
This article first appeared on www.abc.net.au
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