Hu signals new high-speed railways approach

PUBLISHED : Monday, 18 April, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 18 April, 2011, 12:00am


President Hu Jintao has called for a change in the development of China's ambitious but controversial high-speed railways - another sign that top leaders are now adopting a more cautious attitude towards the project.

During an inspection tour in Hainan on Friday and Saturday Hu (pictured) called for 'faster change of the development mode' and 'a scientific and orderly approach' to the vast high-speed rail project, Xinhua reported yesterday. Hu was visiting the province for the BRICS summit of the world's top developing economies.

He told staff at Haikou railway station to use 'practical efforts to guarantee safety' and focus on 'fighting corruption' related to the project, which has caused a public outcry over official embezzlement, safety and debts.

The comments follow an interview with new Railways Minister Sheng Guangzu published on Wednesday by the People's Daily. Sheng said high-speed trains would slow from a top speed of 350km/h to 300km/h, to make journeys safer and more affordable. He said that most trains on high-speed lines, starting from July, would run between 200km/h and 300km/h and that tickets would be cheaper than initially planned.

'Making trains run at 300km/h on lines designed for a speed of 350 km/h will offer more safety, and at the same time allow more space to adjust prices according to the market,' he said.

Sheng was appointed the new minister after the fall in February of Liu Zhijun, who allegedly took more than 800 million yuan (HK$952 million) in kickbacks on contracts linked to expanding the high-speed rail network.

Mired in controversy, the ministry began a series of actions to cool public anger.

From Saturday, all local railway departments began a 10-day safety check on all lines across the country, according to the People's Railway Daily, the ministry's newspaper.

In an earlier interview, Sheng told Xinhua that the government planned to spend 2.8 trillion yuan on railway construction until 2015, which was lower than previous estimates but still 41 per cent higher than in the previous five-year period.

China's high-speed rail network reached 8,358 kilometres at the end of last year and is expected to exceed 13,000 kilometres by the end of next year and 16,000 kilometres by the end of 2020. The latest move means trips on the line between Guangzhou and Wuhan, Hubei , which had lasted three hours, will now take nearly four.

The line connecting Beijing and Shanghai, which is scheduled to open in late June, will have trains travelling at 300km/h and 250km/h and charge different prices.