Treaty of Nanking

Ministry accused of cover-up over safety

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 22 June, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 22 June, 2011, 12:00am


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A former senior official of the Ministry of Railways said that the ministry has overstated the safety of high-speed trains and covered up operational incidents.

In an interview with the 21st Century Business Herald yesterday, Zhou Yimin, former deputy chief engineer of the ministry and head of the Science and Technology Department, said the new bullet trains had been plagued by problems.

'Some problems seem to be small, but they are not. [The ministry] classified all of them,' Zhou was quoted by the newspaper as saying.

He says the latest and fastest train, the CRH 380 series, which will soon begin operating on the world's longest high-speed rail line between Beijing and Shanghai, would put the safety of passengers at risk if run at its top speed of 350km/h. He said the mainland was incapable of making trains that could run safely and reliably at more than 300km/h.

The ministry said this month that safety was not a concern at 350km/h, but that Beijing-Shanghai trains would run at 300km/h for economic and environmental reasons. Zhou said the maximum speed of the CRH 380 prototypes, bought from Japan and Germany, was 300km/h.

But Liu Zhijun, a former railways minister who was held by the party's disciplinary committee in February, put speed over safety to break world records, Zhou alleged.

Safety at 350km/h could not be guaranteed due to a lack of independent research and development, Zhou said. 'Key equipment was all made by foreign companies such as Siemens,' Zhou said. 'Though the manufacturing capabilities of the rail industry have improved a lot with the introduction of overseas prototypes in recent years, China's [research and development] remains peripheral.

'Our trains look almost exactly the same as their peers overseas.'

A spokeswoman for the China South Locomotive and Rolling Stock Corporation, the manufacturer of the CRH 380A model, said yesterday that Zhou had been retired for more than a decade, so his knowledge of the industry was out of date.

The risk of the CRH 380A derailing was 50 per cent lower than its fastest overseas competitors and hulls were more than 20 per cent sturdier, she said. More than 10,000 leading scientists and engineers helped develop the train, she said, and more than 90 per cent of its components could be made domestically.

But Professor Wang Mengshu, who helped draft the mainland's high-speed railway development plan, said Zhou was honest and loyal to his country.

'Though his criticism may be extreme, it will help the ministry improve safety and efficiency,' said Wang, a fellow of the Chinese Academy of Engineering.