Safety Fears Rekindled by Bullet Train Delays

Safety concerns over the newly opened Shanghai-Beijing high-speed railway have been raised again after Sunday’s delays on the route just 10 days after the service began.

Safety Fears Rekindled by Bullet Train Delays

Torrential rain in east China’s Shandong Province was blamed for causing a power failure on the line from Beijing, affecting 19 trains and delaying thousands of passengers for up to three hours.

Power in one train, the G151, failed completely, despite earlier assurances that each train would have two hours of power available in the event of an emergency.

Passengers had to wait in darkness and without air conditioning until power was restored some two hours later. Angry passengers described the attendants as slow to react and unable to explain what was going on.

Many passengers arriving at Shanghai Hongqiao Railway Station on Sunday night and early Monday expressed concern over safety on the route after their ordeal.

One family of three told Shanghai Daily that they had abandoned plans to travel by train to Beijing Monday and were going to fly instead.

When the service began on June 30, Premier Wen Jiabao urged the operator to “give top priority to safety” and ensure passengers enjoy a comfortable journey.

The 220 billion yuan (US$34 billion) project, three years in the making, sparked safety concerns even before it began and the trains’ top speed has been reduced.

A railway expert said that the bullet trains would need to further slow down in the event of bad weather.

Sun Zhang, a professor at Shanghai Tongji University, said the power supply to the trains would be weak if contact between the pantograph on the top of the train and the power lines was affected by bad weather.

“The once steady voltage on the grid will be unstable in heavy rainfall,” he said. “For safety concerns, so far there is no better way of solving the problem than slowing down the train.”

The bullet trains operate at speeds up to 300kph but Sun suggested a 200kph top speed should apply in bad weather.

However, the railway ministry’s chief engineer, He Huawu, said at a June press conference that technology difficulties involving the pantograph and the grid had been solved.

Sun said the operators should “learn a lesson from the incident.”

More than 5,400 passengers arrived late at Hongqiao after the delays. Many didn’t get away, by Metro, taxi or bus, until 1am. People waiting at the station to pick up friends and relatives complained they were left for hours with no clear information about the delays.

Liang Jianying, a rail engineer, said Monday that lighting in carriages may become weak in the event of a power cut but said the air conditioning would still work. Liang works for the China South Locomotive & Rolling Stock Corporation Limited (CSR), one of the country’s two main designers of bullet trains.

Shanghai rail officials also moved to reassure passengers over safety saying that the railway technology was sound.

“The heavy rain and thunder would affect almost every form of transport,” said Zhu Wenzhong, head of Shanghai Railway Station.

Meanwhile, delayed passengers were unlikely to see full refunds with the operator saying that bad weather, over which they had no control, had caused the delays and that passengers had been delivered to their destinations. However, a partial compensation plan is under discussion, rail officials said.

Shanghai Daily

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