World's longest high-speed train to decelerate a bit

09:52, April 15, 2011      

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China is putting the brakes on its bullet trains following complaints that the system is dangerously fast and too expensive.

The fastest routes will be cut from 350kph to 300kph as of July 1, Railway Minister Sheng Guangzu told the People's Daily.

Sheng was appointed in February after his predecessor was fired amid a corruption investigation.

"This will offer more safety," Sheng said. "At the same time, this will allow more variation in ticket prices based on market principles."

The top speed will apply to four north-south and four east-west trunk lines and regional lines will run at 200-250kph, said Sheng.

In response to complaints about high ticket prices, Sheng said the government will also run lower-cost bullet trains on trunk lines.

Safety worries

"Construction standards for railways should match the level of social and economic development in local regions, and we need to consider people's ability to afford high speed train tickets," Sheng said.

Zhang Hanya, director of the Investment Association of China, questioned the necessity of building the fastest trains possible, because, he said, the public worried about the safety of fast trains.

Others say the multibillion-dollar price tag is too high for a country where millions of families still live in poverty.

A second-class seat on the Wuhan-Guangzhou high-speed link, which opened in late 2009, costs 490 yuan, almost three times the cost of a seat on a slower train.

China has the world's biggest train network, with 91,000 kilometers of passenger rail and 3.2 million employees. But trains are overloaded with passengers and cargo, and critics say the money would be better spent expanding cheaper, slower routes.

Officials say the high-speed network will grow to 13,000 kilometers of track by the end of this year and 16,000 kilometers by 2020.

A key project is the 215 billion yuan, 1,318-kilometer Shanghai-Beijing line that is due to open in late June.

The heavy spending on the bullet trains has prompted complaints China is failing to meet the needs of its poor majority by investing in lower-cost regular service.

During the Lunar New Year holiday in February, working class travelers complained they couldn't afford high-speed tickets while regular trains were sold out.

A migrant worker became an Internet sensation when he stripped to his underwear to protest outside a ticket office after he waited 14 hours in line but couldn't get tickets for his family.

Construction costs have saddled operators with debt that industry analysts say ticket sales might not cover.

A 115-kilometer line linking Beijing with the port of Tianjin cost 21.5 billion yuan, by far China's most expensive rail route. The route is so short that the train hits its 350kph cruising speed for only a few minutes before it slows in preparation for arrival.

Source: Shanghai Daily
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