Watchdog orders halt to rail projects

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 19 May, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 19 May, 2011, 12:00am


The country's top environmental watchdog orders two high-speed rail projects to be halted, citing a lack of necessary green approval.

According to a statement posted yesterday on the Ministry of Environmental Protection's website, work on a 264-kilometre rail link between Tianjin and Qinhuangdao, a port city in Hebei, should be halted due to a failure to observe the environmental impact assessment law. An investigation commissioned by the watchdog found that the project co-ordinators did not submit the mandatory environmental report after changes were made to the rail route. The co-ordinators were given a month to resubmit a report.

All infrastructure and industrial projects are required to get approval from environmental watchdogs before proceeding, in accordance with mainland laws and regulations.

Work started on the Tianjin-Qinhuangdao project in November 2008 and was scheduled to be completed next year - with trains to run at a top speed of 350km/h - according to the website of Caixin Media.

Last month, the watchdog ordered a halt to another project - a high-speed rail line between Qingdao and Jinan, in Shandong province, that has been operating since December 2008.

That rail link, the first on the mainland, sees trains run at between 200km/h and 250km/h. But the environmental watchdog said the launch three years ago was illegal, because the link failed to receive a final approval, the 21st Century Business Herald reported last week.

The watchdog did not release any further details or explain why the issues with both projects had not been spotted earlier.

Environmentalists hailed the watchdog's bold move to target the high-speed railway sector but they said the ministry's belated decisions were largely symbolic, due to its limited power over other ministries and loopholes in environmental laws.

'Although the ministry won't be able to stop the projects permanently, it serves as a warning about possible environmental risks with the railway construction,' said Beijing-based environmentalist Ma Jun, with the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs.