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On China’s flagship high-speed rail line, caution, resignation after crash

By Michael Martina – Reuters

BEIJING/SHANGHAI | Sun Aug 14, 2011

China’s landmark Beijing-Shanghai high-speed rail line was designed to go 350 km (217 miles per hour)

. ..[but]  after a batch of train recalls and last month’s deadly crash on another route, that speed was about 150 kph too fast for passenger Qi Dezhou.

“The speed of these trains shouldn’t exceed 200 kph. It’s convenient, but I have to say, I’m a little worried that it is too fast,” Qi, 58, said aboard the train as it hurtled through the countryside, the onboard speedometer clocking in at 309 kph.

China’s second-biggest train maker said on Friday it would recall 54 bullet trains used on the new flagship line for safety reasons, the latest blow to the country’s scandal-plagued rail system.

But that revelation, coupled with the Wenzhou train crash on July 23 which killed 40 people — triggering public fury and a freeze on new rail project approvals — was not enough to deter passengers from packing a Friday night train for the five-plus hour journey from the capital to Shanghai.

Among the travellers were many who seemed to have resigned themselves to putting aside fresh doubts in the country’s accident-prone rail system because of the train’s convenience

Despite that, many wanted to see the brakes applied to the bullet trains and the government’s ambitious rail plans, for which last year investment in the sector hit a record high of 749.5 billion yuan ($117.2 billion).

“Until the accident, I thought these trains were safe, but if I had the option I would take a plane,” said Wang Jian, a 51-year-old building maintenance services manager.

Flights between China’s two premier cities, while priced higher, have dismal records for on-time arrival. Tickets for the high-speed trains, which run several times during the day, can be purchased minutes before departure.

“Other people on this train absolutely have their concerns about safety,” Wang said, shaking his head toward the 80 filled seats in car 15.

Among the 16 quiet and air-conditioned cars, most with as many full seats, people with doctorate degrees sat next to heavy machinery repairmen and sales service professionals returning from business trips, a far cry from China’s less glamorous train rides in smoky, standing room-only cars.

Outside, heavy rains pelting the green farmland slid horizontally across the train’s windows with barely a whisper.

The Beijing-Shanghai line, which opened at the beginning of July to highlight the ruling Communist Party’s 90th anniversary, was hailed by senior railways officials as the pride of China and a feather of technological progress in the nation’s cap.

Now it provides a ready stand-in for those who harbour suspicions toward the scandal-plagued railways ministry.

“There needs to be a change of the system within the Ministry of Railways. A fundamental problem is that our rail industry is too closely tied to the government. There needs to be more market force to regulate it,” Wang said.

Officials blamed July’s crash on a separate high-speed line south of Shanghai first on a lightning strike and then on faulty signals technology. But on Friday, Chinese media quoted a senior investigator as saying the crash also exposed management failings and could have been avoided.

Experts have said the recall of the trains on the Beijing-Shanghai line suggested top leaders, challenged by July’s crash, were rethinking the pace of rail growth.

The official Xinhua news agency said trains on the line would be cut by a quarter, from 88 to 66 pairs a day, and that top speeds on the fastest trains would be reduced to 300 kph.


Jiang Biao, a 25-year-old salesman transporting imported watches to Shanghai, said the Wenzhou crash was a fluke.

“If this train was genuinely unsafe the government would not allow it to continue running. Not after Wenzhou,” Jiang said, sipping tea in the cafeteria car

“In terms of safety, Wenzhou was an exception. Planes can crash too,” Jiang said.

Boarding a Beijing-bound flight on Saturday at Shanghai’s Hongqiao airport, a transportation complex that also receives the high-speed trains from Beijing, Wang Kailing credited the Internet with ratcheting up pressure on the government.

“The pressure society is putting on the government is huge. Without the Internet, this situation [Wenzhou crash] could easily have slipped by and been forgotten,” the 29-year-old electrical engineer from Shanghai said.

Wang said he would probably take the high-speed train north someday, but for now, he was inclined to stick to airplanes.

“The construction of the Beijing-Shanghai high-speed rail happened so fast. As an electrical engineer, I know that some things within the construction are just unfixable,” Wang said.

“The fact is that China is developing so quickly, but there are some things that we haven’t been able to keep pace with.” (Reporting by Michael Martina’ Editing by Sanjeev Miglani)

Article Source:-  reuters

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