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Train crash shakes confidence in train travel (2)

(Xinhua)

15:46, August 07, 2011

The development of China's high-speed railways surged after the State Council created a medium- and long-term development plan for the country's railway network in 2004. Train speeds have increased significantly since then, with bullet trains being put into use on major railways.

By the end of 2010, 8,358 km of high-speed railways had been put into operation, ranking the first in the world in terms of length.

According to the railway network development plan, which was revised in 2008, the total length of the country's railways is expected to reach 13,000 km by 2010 and 16,000 km by 2020.

China announced its ambition to send 1.9 billion passengers in 2011 at the National Railway Work Conference this past January.

Peng Qiyuan, head of the School of Traffic and Logistics at Southwest Jiaotong University, said bullet trains are generally safe in terms of design.

"A train should be equipped with a detector that can automatically check the signal in front," he said. "Two trains should be kept strictly 7,000 to 8,000 meters apart."

Ma Guanghai, a professor with the School of Philosophy and Social Development, understands people's panic.

"Bus accidents are frequently reported, and airplane accidents are hard to escape, so as a result, people like to take trains," he said.

Ma said this accident has seriously undermined people's confidence, especially at a time when many of the new Beijing-Shanghai high-speed trains have been late and online communication spreads information quickly.

Premier Wen Jiabao said last week that prioritizing safety for China's high-speed railways is the only way to win trust from foreign countries.

"High-speed railway development should integrate speed, quality, efficiency and safety, and safety should be put in first place," he said.

But Wang noted that what the nation's people want to see is real change -- not pledges and platitudes.

"We need to improve the management level and facilities to convince the passengers that trains are still reliable," he said.

Meanwhile, he said the railway authority should change its attitude toward the public.

When asked about the controversial burying of the carriages, Wang Yongping, spokesman for China's Ministry of Railways, said the move was to facilitate rescue work, and added "whatever you think, I believe in it," and that particular choice of words angered many.

"Authorities should be more sincere and reflect on their mistakes, so as to win forgiveness from the public," Wang said.

His view was shared by passengers.

A man from a law firm in Beijing, who only identified himself as Liu, just bought an airline ticket to Jinan, capital of eastern Shandong province, although the journey by train would have only taken three hours.

"I would still take trains in the future," he said. "But only after a thorough check throughout the system and assurances that all loopholes are mended."

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