Trains slowed 'to boost efficiency'
The decision to reduce the operating speed of the fastest bullet trains between Beijing and Shanghai from 350km/h to 300km/h upon the line's likely launch later this month was not made because of safety concerns, according to the Ministry of Railways.
Deputy Railways Minister Hu Yadong said in Beijing yesterday that running the trains below their top speed would improve operating efficiency, reduce energy consumption and prolong the life span of passenger trains and tracks.
Hu noted that the construction, test runs, safety reviews, quality inspections and preliminary certification of the Beijing-Shanghai high-speed rail had been carried out to meet the standards required for 350km/h speeds. The reduced speed, he said, was not a result of a 'failure to meet quality standards in construction or a lack of safety'.
Wang Mengshu , an expert on high-speed railways and a professor at the Chinese Academy of Engineering, said the ministry was trying to clarify a misunderstanding caused by an interview with Rail Minister Sheng Guangzu in People's Daily last month.
In the interview, Sheng said that one benefit of running Beijing-Shanghai trains at 300km/h was increased 'safety redundancy'.
Wang said that Sheng's remark was incorrectly interpreted by opponents of high-speed trains as the ministry's first official admittance of safety problems involving the track, and it triggered concern and an outcry throughout the country.
''Safety redundancy' means [ensuring that] the trains are operating at safety level higher than the design standard,' Wang said. 'So you can understand the ministry's desire to stop it from being interpreted as a safety concern.'
Hu said running trains at different speeds on the same line would reduce operating efficiency, and the greater the difference, the less efficient the operation. Having trains run at 350km/h and 250km/h would be 20 per cent less efficient than a 300/250 combination, Hu said.
Like cars, high-speed trains operating at maximum speed encounter enormous drag that significantly increases energy consumption. Running at 300km/h would not only cut electricity bills but also reduce wear on tracks and other facilities, he said, adding: 'We have done many calculations and experiments.'
But speed aside, construction and operation of the world's largest high-speed railway network hasn't come without problems that have shaken the public's faith in its safety. They include the exposure of the use of low-quality fly ash in the concrete base of tracks. And a recent official safety assessment also exposed some alarming issues.
Deputy State Work Safety Administrator Wang Dexue told China News Service during a safety-assessment conference on Thursday that, to terrorists, a high-speed train looks like a jumbo jet on rails: it's a potential target.
Wang said there was room to improve safety along the line, and that people didn't fully realise its risks.
Hu, also speaking at the conference on Thursday, admitted that there were potential safety problems. They include ground-shaking explosions caused by mining activities near the line and potential damage to fences along the route.
Beijing to Shanghai by high-speed rail:
4 hours, 48 minutes
Beijing to Shanghai by air:
Note: air fare and flying time approximate, rail fare refers to cheapest ticket