Crash may hurt China's hopes for US contract

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 11 August, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 11 August, 2011, 12:00am


Last month's high-speed-train crash on the mainland may have dashed the chances of Chinese companies winning contracts to build the California high-speed railway in the US.

'The California High-Speed Rail Authority is committed to the highest level of safety. Only well-proven equipment and safety solutions are being considered,' said Rachel Wall, a spokeswoman for the authority.

This appears to have put Chinese rail firms on the back foot in the race for the contract to build the most valuable and first US high-speed rail network, since rivals in Japan and Europe have safer track records.

There had been no fatal accidents on high-speed railways in France, Japan, Spain and Britain, Wall said.

Before the train crash on July 23 in Wenzhou, Zhejiang province, there had been only one fatal high-speed rail accident in Eschede, Germany, in 1998, with 101 people killed and an estimated 88 injured.

Japan's high-speed railway has been operating for at least 45 years, while in European it has a 35-year history. In contrast, the collision in China killed at least 40 and injured 200, making it the worst high-speed rail accident since China launched high-speed rail services in 2008.

This crash would have a big negative impact on Chinese firms winning contracts in the California high-speed railway, but would not totally destroy their chances, said Kao Tsung-chung, an adviser to the California project. 'China has to work very hard to convince people in the US to buy Chinese high-speed rail,' said Kao, who is also a railroad professor at the University of Illinois.

Richard di Bona, who runs a transport consultancy in Hong Kong, said: 'The chances of Chinese companies winning contracts in California's high-speed rail is very low at the moment, less than two months ago.'

'The accident no doubt has affected our image badly,' said Qian Guifeng, deputy director of the US Railway Project Working Group, the Ministry of Railways' unit promoting Chinese railway firms in the US. 'But a single case does not mean it is totally finished for Chinese high-speed rail companies,' she added.

In March, a Chinese consortium submitted an expression of interest to bid for the California north-south rail project, which will cost US$45 billion and stretch 1,290 kilometres.

The consortium includes the Shanghai Railway Bureau, which will operate the California railway if it wins the bid. Three officials of the bureau, which operated one of the two trains that collided, were sacked.

'We don't think there is any discernible effect from the accident on our company so far. We haven't received any response on the accident yet,' said Thomas Wong, joint company secretary of CSR Corporation, a member of the consortium.