July 14, 2024

High-Speed Trains in China To Run Slower, Ministry Says

The new line, once set to run at up to 236 miles per hour, will instead run trains at 186 and 155 miles per hour, the ministry announced.

That puts the line at the same speeds that the ministry had announced in February for eight other trunk lines on the network, which is still being built. Those trunk lines originally were set to run at a top speed of 217 miles per hour, slightly slower than the Beijing-to-Shanghai route.

The reduced speeds stem from sweeping changes the ministry has made since the rails minister, Liu Zhijun, was fired on corruption and mismanagement charges in February. Some critics had charged that Mr. Liu built a high-speed-rail empire that was both too costly for average riders and marred by shoddy, quick construction that, at a minimum, might require lower speeds.

The ministry’s new leaders sent safety inspectors to the Beijing-to-Shanghai line, and this month it was pronounced safe for use. But in recent days, the Railway Ministry and rail security officials had warned that the high-speed lines face other hazards, from inadequately secured tracks to mines built near the lines, that pose potentially serious risks.

Vice Minister Hu Yadong told reporters Monday that the trains could run at the higher speed, but the reductions would have broad benefits, making it easier for more traditional, more affordable trains to operate and saving on maintenance and power.

Rail officials also said they had scrapped plans for luxury compartments and would offer cheaper classes of service. The new line will halve the 10-hour rail trip between the country’s great metropolises, but even the lowest ticket price of about $63 nearly equals the net monthly income for rural residents.

The policy used “the satisfaction of the people as the basic requirement for evaluating railway work,” Mr. Hu said.

The plans, developed as China’s economy took fire, include nearly 8,100 miles of high-speed rail lines and some 11,000 miles of traditional railroad lines, at a cost of $750 billion.

In the past few months, some foreign companies that sold China its high-speed technology said the trains were not designed to operate at 215 miles per hour. The ministry said that Chinese engineers had improved on the foreign technology and that the trains were safe at the higher speeds.

China depends on mass transit to a high degree, but many trains are overcrowded and filthy, and hundreds of millions of people face days of misery annually as they head to their hometowns and villages for the Lunar New Year.

Even as the Rail Ministry announced the policy changes, it was the subject of a rare protest in tightly controlled central Beijing. More than 100 demobilized soldiers and their families traveled 750 miles, from the northeastern city of Harbin, to gather at the ministry’s fortress-like headquarters and chant accusations of corruption in hiring.

They said that the ministry had reneged on promises of jobs, rigging tests in favor of better-connected candidates.

“We love China!” the protesters shouted. “Give us our jobs!” The protesters, many of them wearing T-shirts saying “I am from a military family,” said they had tested for the jobs but that the results were rigged.

Michael Wines contributed reporting, and Shi Da contributed research.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/14/world/asia/14china.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

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