China Moves to Ease High-Speed Train Concerns

Posted June 27th, 2011 at 10:00 am (UTC-5)
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The Chinese government is seeking to ease public concerns about its showcase Beijing-to-Shanghai high-speed train, after a former rail official accused Beijing of ignoring safety problems on the $32.5 billion rail line and exaggerating the train’s top speed.

The official Xinhua news agency on Monday dismissed the claims of the former official. The report quotes chief railway ministry engineer He Huawu as saying the accusations by a former deputy are “groundless.”

Last week, the former deputy, Zhou Yimin, was quoted in the financial magazine Caijing as saying problems are common in several of China’s high-speed trains, and that they have been kept secret. He did not elaborate.

Zhou also said that earlier claims the train could reach speeds of 350 kilometers per hour were fraudulent. Authorities lowered the train’s allowable top speed to 300 kph in April, citing economic and safety concerns.

Meanwhile, a sleek new bullet train set out from Beijing Monday on the 1,318-kilometer test run to Shanghai, carrying a host of dignitaries, executives and journalists. The train was due in Shanghai five hours later — less than half the time required by a conventional train.

A major train corruption scandal that surfaced earlier this year has also raised concerns about the cost and safety of China’s ambitious high-speed train projects.

That scandal forced former Railways Ministry chief Liu Zhijun from office, after prosecutors began probing allegations of large-scale embezzlement from railway funding.

The communist government is building thousands of kilometers of high-speed rail lines to link together the massive country.

But critics say the multi-billion-dollar plan is too expensive for a country where millions of people live in poverty, and that the lines are being built primarily to boost Beijing’s prestige.