Rail project still up in the air

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 18 December, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 18 December, 2011, 12:00am


Uncertainly hangs over the launch date for high-speed train services between Guangzhou and Shenzhen after months of delay amid rumours of mounting safety concerns.

Mainland media say the launch of the services - expected to halve travel time between the two cities to 25 minutes - is imminent because authorities want them on line in time to ease pressure during the Lunar New Year peak travel period.

Some news outlets reported last week that services would begin on December 28, citing sources at a closed-door meeting in Guangzhou of inspectors from the Ministry of Railways. But Guangzhou Railway Group official He Zhiwen denied a timetable had been set. He said the project would be launched only when ready. 'We can't make any comment at this moment [on operation and safety details],' he said.

The section between Guangzhou and Shenzhen, part of the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong high-speed rail link, was scheduled to open in August in time for a visit to Shenzhen by President Hu Jintao for the opening of the World University Games.

The plan was postponed indefinitely after Beijing ordered a nationwide inspection of high-speed rail projects following a deadly collision between two trains in Wenzhou in July that killed 40 people.

Then in September, an anonymous microblogger describing himself as a railway insider posted details online of more than 50 major problems spotted on the Guangzhou-Shenzhen section during an assessment of the signal and track systems. Guangzhou Railway refused to comment on the post, other than to say it was not credible.

An initial test run of the section was delayed from October 26 until late last month. A team of 30 ministry inspectors took a bullet train from Guangzhou to Shenzhen on Monday in another test run, according to The Southern Metropolis News.

Sun Yat-sen University transport professor Zheng Tianxiang said it was hard for the public to know the real level of safety on the express line because of lack of information.

'Only government departments have first-hand data and reports about it,' Zheng said. 'But the delay is not a bad thing for the public. At least it means the official attitude is one of being very careful. It's not like before when the authorities rushed through construction projects to have something to cheer about.

'But it would be good if the line could open later this month or early next month. That would greatly ease traffic during the Lunar New Year, especially for migrant workers returning to hinterland provinces like Henan , Hebei and Hunan .'

Work started on the 65 billion yuan (HK$79.72 billion) line in December 2005. The Shenzhen-Hong Kong section is due to open by the end of 2015, cutting travel time between the two cities to 12 minutes.

Guangdong plans to link most of its cities with high-speed lines over the next decade as part of an ambition to have one of the world's most comprehensive regional rail networks. Once the network is in place, commuters should be able to travel between any two Pearl River Delta cities in around an hour.