China High-Speed Rail Lines Halted

China has ordered one high-speed rail line to stop running and halted the construction of another due to violations of environmental protection laws.

The move marked the latest setback for China's high-speed links after Beijing sacked railways minister Liu Zhijun in February for allegedly taking more than 800 million yuan ($121 million) in kickbacks.

Liu's alleged graft was reportedly linked to contracts for high-speed rail expansion and the scandal raised concerns that the network was growing too fast at the expense of safety.

The Ministry of Environmental Protection has ordered a halt to construction of a line linking the northern cities of Tianjin and Qinhuangdao because its route had been changed without approval, said a statement posted Wednesday on the ministry's website.

It also ordered a line in eastern Shandong province linking Qingdao and Jinan to stop running because it has not yet passed an environmental assessment, according to an order on the website dated April 25.

Liu's successor, Sheng Guangzu, has said trains would run at slower speeds -- 300 kilometres (185 miles) per hour instead of 350 kph -- than originally planned to make the lines safer and more affordable.

China also said it would cut railway investment this year after a massive push to expand the high-speed network also raised worry over the government's heavy debt burden, state media reported.

Ma Jun, director of the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs, a non-governmental organisation, said the suspensions could be a sign that environmental assessments are being taken more seriously.

"Many projects started construction before getting evaluations, and some evaluations did not recognise potential risks to the environment," he was quoted as saying by the China Daily.

He said the results of such assessments can be influenced by developers and local governments in China pursuing economic development.


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