Modified bullet trains expected back on tracks

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 15 November, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 15 November, 2011, 12:00am


The 54 bullet trains taken out of service following the deadly Wenzhou high-speed-rail crash in the summer are to resume operations on the Beijing-to-Shanghai line after receiving 'modifications', state media reported yesterday.

The trains, made by China CNR Corporation, were withdrawn in August, less than three weeks after the collision that claimed at least 40 lives.

'After a three-month process of modifications and repeated tests, previously reported problems with the CRH380BL trains have all been fixed,' Xinhua quoted an unidentified Ministry of Railways official as saying. 'Operations will gradually resume starting from Wednesday.'

The ministry official told the state news agency that six trains would initially be put back into service, while all 54 trains were expected to be back on the tracks by December 6, 'if everything goes well'.

The Beijing News reported that the first train would 'possibly' run between Beijing and Qingdao, Shandong province.

The CRH380BL model - one of China's newest and most advanced high-speed trains - was not involved in the Wenzhou crash, but technical faults were uncovered in a safety crackdown launched in the wake of the disaster. The timing of the sudden recall of such high-profile technology shook public confidence in the high-speed rail network's safety record, already jolted by the accident and a series of stoppages and major delays on the new Beijing-Shanghai route.

Media reports and experts earlier suggested that hairline cracks found in the axles of trains running on the line were linked to the recall.

However, the railways ministry sparked controversy just over a week later by stating that it had been a false alarm, as the German ultrasonic detectors used had been too sensitive, and CNR told a Beijing newspaper that the problem had been solved by resetting the sensors' parameters.

CNR had already decided to halt delivery of CRH380BL trains shortly ahead of the recall due to 'flaws in the model's automatic braking systems', Xinhua reported yesterday, adding that the company 'blamed the problems on quality defects with outsourced parts and components'.

No one at CNR's head office could be reached for comment yesterday.

But a senior safety management official at the Tangshan Railway Vehicle Co - the CNR subsidiary that built the trains - said he understood that the CRH380BL trains had been given the all-clear. 'I was not directly involved in the process, but as far as I am aware, the safety checks and rectifications have all been completed, and the trains were returned to the ministry,' he said. 'When they decide to put them back into operation is not part of our remit.'

There is a 'one in 10,000' chance of a fault occurring, said Professor Wang Mengshu , deputy chief engineer of the China Tunnel Railway Group and a key drafter of the high-speed rail plan. 'The problems were not major to begin with,' Wang said. 'It was a case of testing the individual trains one by one, to make sure they were safe and certifying them.

'The main challenge ... is management, not the technical quality of the hardware.'

2.1tr yuan

The Ministry of Railways' debt stood at this much, in yuan, in the first half of this year