Rail chief vows safety failings will be tackled

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 04 August, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 04 August, 2011, 12:00am


Under-fire Minister of Railways Sheng Guangzu has pledged to ensure 'absolute safety' on the mainland's rail network in the wake of the bullet train collision on July 23 that claimed 40 lives.

The promise came as the beleaguered ministry faced fresh problems yesterday, amid further delays and news of striking train drivers.

'The bloody lesson of the July 23 accident has been that safe operation of the railways is related to the safety of the public's lives and property, related to the development of railway enterprises and related to the nation's reputation,' Sheng said. '[The duty of] ensuring safety is as great as the sky, the responsibility as heavy as Mount Tai.'

Sheng was addressing a meeting with the ministry's Communist Party secretary on Tuesday, but his comments were only released in a statement yesterday.

Sheng, who took over a ministry beset with corruption scandals and mounting debts in February, has been facing calls to stand down since last month's collision in Wenzhou , Zhejiang province .

The accident occurred when a high-speed train from Beijing to Fuzhou, in Fujian, ran into the back of a slow-moving or stalled train while on a viaduct.

Four carriages were pushed off the bridge, while the rearmost carriage of the train in front was crushed.

Sheng said the rail network needed to recognise the 'extreme importance of ensuring safe operations'.

'At the present moment, the crucial duties we are facing are to come to terms with the pain, draw lessons, take forceful steps to vigorously implement emergency measures to strengthen the foundations of safety, and to rapidly stabilise the safe operation of rail transport,' he said.

Sheng singled out the nation's expanding high-speed network as a particular area for concern.

'[We must] ensure the absolute safety of high-speed-rail operations,' Sheng said. The minister said there was a need to improve the quality of high-speed-rail equipment, strengthen the regulatory system governing construction of the network, and upgrade the training of high-speed-rail staff.

The comments are a significant change of tack for the ministry, which has consistently said its high-speed- rail technology is 'advanced and up to standard', and that staff are well trained.

It coincided with news of train drivers taking industrial action over eight years of unpaid overtime.

The strike by about 200 train drivers at the Guangzhou Railway Group based in Changsha ended yesterday when management agreed to investigate their demands.

There were also further problems on the high-speed line outside Wenzhou due to maintenance on the stretch of track where last month's accident occurred.

The ministry suspended six pairs of northbound and southbound services on the route from yesterday until tomorrow.