Old new hand in the driver’s seat at China’s railway giant

Veteran punished over Wenzhou disaster back on track to head up national rail operator

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 09 October, 2016, 11:52pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 09 October, 2016, 11:52pm

A veteran official punished over the deadly Wenzhou high-speed train crash five years ago has made a comeback to be named as the head of the country’s rail network.

Lu Dongfu, 61, has become the general manager of China Railway Corporation, replacing Sheng Guangzu, who retired, according to Caixin and Shanghai-based Thepaper.cn.

Lu will head what used to be the Ministry of Railways and is now at the centre of debt-fuelled infrastructure spending and Beijing’s ambition to expand its global geopolitical reach.

Chinese-built railway links landlocked Ethiopia, one of the world’s fastest growing economies, to the sea

“Lu is widely respected within the rail community as he knows every aspect of China’s railway system,” Beijing Jiaotong University professor Wang Mengshu said.

He has managed transport operations, accounting, technology and line planning – he is a well-rounded hand
Beijing Jiaotong University professor Wang Mengshu

“He has managed transport operations, accounting, technology and line planning – he is a well-rounded hand.”

According to his official biography, Lu was a deputy rail minister for a decade until 2013 when the ministry was disbanded. He then became head of the National Railway Administration, a bureau within the Ministry of Transport.

During Lu’s 10 years at the ministry, the mainland made its “great leap forward” in high-speed rail. The country’s first high-speed line, a 120km link between Beijing and Tianjin, went into operation in 2008 and the network has since expanded to about 20,000km.

But the expansion programme came under fire in 2011 when 40 people were killed in a high-speed crash near Wenzhou.

The ministry was attacked for its poor handling of the incident, prompting cuts to speed limits on high-speed lines.

Lu was punished with a “demerit” on his record for his lack of “leadership responsibility”.

The crash came a few months after Liu Zhijun was sacked as minister over corruption. Liu was convicted and is serving a life ­sentence.

The contract that brought down China’s rail minister Liu Zhijun

At least 10 senior officials with the ministry were arrested for graft between 2011 and 2013.

Lu’s appointment as China Railway’s chief has raised expectations that train speed limits will be increased to make rail travel even faster.

China Railway is spending more than 2 billion yuan (HK$2.32 billion) each day on new domestic railway lines, and investing aggressively abroad.

At the same time, China Railway is under growing debt and operational pressures.

Freight transport dropped 11.9 per cent last year from 2014, although passenger numbers increased 10 per cent.

And in the first six months of this year, China Railway’s debt-to-asset ratio was 65 per cent, with 7.3 billion yuan in losses, according to its financial statements.