China: Bullet Train Rollout Loses Momentum

Nov. 9, 2011
A credit squeeze and safety concerns have prompted China to slow down the galloping pace with which it has been building the world's largest high-speed railway network.

A credit squeeze and safety concerns have prompted China to slow down the galloping pace with which it has been building the world's largest high-speed railway network.

The launch date of Shijiazhuang-Wuhan high speed railway, which was due to become operational at the end of this year, has been postponed "indefinitely," while three other lines, including the interprovincial Wuhan-Yichang line, all experience delays of at least two months, Xinhua news agency reported today.

The 840.7-kilometer Shijiazhuang-Wuhan line, the longest north-south route in China's planned high-speed railway network of over 13,000 kilometers by 2012, connects to the Beijing-Shijiazhuang high-speed railway in the north and Wuhan-Guangzhou line in the south. The trains are designed to run at a speed of 350 kilometers per hour on the line.

"It's impossible for the Shijiazhuang-Wuhan line to open for operation at the year end," said Zhang Cheng, a manager with Hubei-based China Railway 11 Bureau Group Corp that is responsible for the construction of the line. "People have to wait at least another year," he said.

Zhang said the delays came after a safety campaign was launched inside the Ministry of Railways following a fatal train crash that killed at least 40 people and injured 192 others near Wenzhou, Zhejiang Province, in July.

The 290.1-kilometer Wuhan-Yichang line, which was due to open this month, is still bogged down with test runs. The line, running across the country's eastern, central and western regions, will not see trains running on its tracks until it has passed an overall safety review possibly in March next year, Xinhua said.

Meanwhile, the opening of another two intercity lines that run around Wuhan City in Hubei Province have been postponed to next year.

News of the delays came along with a report by China Securities Journal today that China is likely to cut investment in railways to 500 billion yuan (US$79.11 billion) per year from the 800 billion yuan a year proposed in a long-term plan. In 2010, investment in rail sector fixed assets reached 842.6 billion yuan, and this year the ministry plans to complete basic infrastructure investment worth 600 billion, the newspaper said, citing unidentified sources.

The State Council ordered an adjustment of the medium-to-long term plan for rail network expansion, it said. "But no conclusive document has emerged yet," it added.

Apart from sparking a safety overhaul, the Wenzhou crash in July also revealed the railway ministry was battling its own "subprime-style crisis" as it sits on a mountain debt of more than 2 trillion yuan The railway authority, which is also troubled by spreading corruption scandals after former minister Liu Zhijun was toppled, now has to shelf construction plans of over 10,000 kilometers of long distance railways because of its funding woes, leaving workers without pay, according to Wang Mengshu, vice chief engineer of the China Railway Tunnel Group, a major builder of the country's railway network.

The ministry originally planned to build 25,000 kilometers of high-speed railways with trains reaching speeds of 350 kilometers per hour.

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