BEIJING – The State Council’s decision to slow the operating speeds of China’s high-speed trains on Wednesday is receiving a tepid welcome from many Chinese.
The safety of the railways was brought into question when a high-speed train crashed into another on a line near Wenzhou in Zhejiang on July 23. The accident has been blamed on faulty signaling equipment.
At a meeting presided over by Premier Wen Jiabao shortly after the crash, the State Council ordered safety checks to be conducted on both high-speed railways and those that convey trains at slower speeds.
That decision made headlines across the country and soon gave rise to fixed feelings among many in the public.
Zhou Yiwen, an employee of the Hunan Tangel Publishing Co, wrote on his micro blog: “I feel a little relieved, and I have faith in the government’s measures. I hope it is not too late to fix this problem.”
A Beijing taxi driver surnamed Li expressed similar sentiments. “It’s good news, since I’ll feel safe with the trains running at slower speeds,” he said. “But I do hope that they (the Railway Ministry) can eliminate hazards so a disaster like this won’t happen again.”
Sun Zhang, a professor at the Railway and Urban Mass Transit Research Institute of Tongji University, also said he supports the new policy.
“We should take time to test the high-speed rail system and gain more experience, because that will provide an important reference for the future operation of these trains at high speeds,” Sun said.
“It took Japan 47 years to increase the speed of its Shinkansen railway network, going from 210 km an hour in 1964 to 300 km an hour in 2011. So it’s impressive, and at the same time a bit worrisome, that China managed to achieve speeds of 350 km an hour in just seven years.”
Others, though, doubt that slower speeds will produce the desired results.
“I don’t think it will work, since the actual cause of the crash is unknown,” a netizen using the screenname dayushuomanhua said in a micro blog post. “We don’t know if the train speed had anything to do with the crash, so slowing the speed of the trains is like barking up the wrong tree.”
Sheng Guangzu, the minister of railways, said that railways with a maximum speed of 350 km an hour will run at 300 km an hour and those with a maximum speed of 250 km an hour will run at 200 km an hour. He said railways whose speeds have been lifted to 200 km an hour will be slowed to 160 km an hour.
Ticket fares will be reduced accordingly, he said.
Meanwhile, in response to the State Council’s decision, the transport bureau of the Ministry of Railways has started making a new train schedule. The schedule will slow the speed of the new high-speed railways in the initial stages of their operation.
While some are raising doubts about the reduced train speeds, others want the trains to be allowed to run faster in the future.
A netizen going by the name yuanlianqishi wrote in a micro blog post: “I hope slowing the trains will be a temporary thing. I think after better safety measures and personnel training are put into effect, the train speeds will increase again.”
An editorial appearing on Thursday in the Beijing News stated, “Developing high-speed railways is in keeping with current trends and the aspirations of the people, but what people need are safe trains, affordable fares and quality service.”
Sheng said the crash exposed flaws in the safety and management of railway traffic, as well as a lack of experience in responding to train accidents.
An investigation into the cause of the crash is still under way. The results are expected to come out in mid-September, according to the team responsible for investigating the crash.
In a recent development, China CNR Corporation Ltd, one of the country’s biggest train producers, submitted a proposal to the Ministry of Railways on Thursday, requesting permission to recall every 54 CRH380BL train that has been put into operation, according to a report on caing.com.
The company on Wednesday announced that it has ceased delivering CRH380BL high-speed trains and has begun a technical overhaul.
In late July, two CRH380BL trains abnormally stopped three times when they were going from Beijing to Shanghai.
The breakdowns were mainly caused by failures of the trains’ sensors, said Zhao Minghua, a senior executive of the CNR Changchun Railway Vehicles Co, which produces the CRH380BL trains.
China began operating bullet trains in 2007. By the end of 2010, it had put 8,358 km of high-speed railways into operation, giving it the longest rail network of any country in the world.
According to the country’s railway plan, which was revised in 2008, China is expected to have 16,000 km of railways by 2020.