Ministry says sorry for rail breakdowns

08:27, July 15, 2011      

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A Ministry of Railways spokesman again apologized to the public yesterday for frequent breakdowns on the newly opened Shanghai-Beijing high-speed railway and promised improvements as soon as possible.

The country's largest rail project has seen three breakdowns in four days since Sunday night with thousands of passengers delayed for hours, many of them sweltering in carriages without air conditioning.

"I am here ready to take criticisms," said the ministry's Wang Yongping in an online discussion on yesterday.

Wang said the problems happened during a "break-in period" and he was confident of the safety of the service which began on June 30. He said the service was "well organized for most of the time."

The line is handling an average of 165,000 passengers daily along its 1,318-kilometer-long track with a peak of 197,000. Some 94 percent of departures were on time while 85.6 percent of trains had arrived on time, with the lower figure the result of the breakdowns.

Wang said the operator will conduct thorough checks along the line and enhance its ability to deal with emergencies by continued training and practice.

Wang took the opportunity to hit back at a major Japanese newspaper yesterday, saying Sankei Shimbun's reports on the high-speed breakdowns were "taking pleasure in another's suffering."

It was the ministry's latest response to overseas criticism after Wang called claims by Kawasaki Heavy Industries Ltd that China had copied Japan's Shinkansen bullet train "absurd."

"China's high-speed rail technologies are much better than those used on Japan's Shinkansen," Wang said last week. The CRH380 trains running on the Shanghai-Beijing route were developed by China, he said.

There was a mixed response to the online apology with some people expressing concern over safety while others described the new railway as an "infant" needing care.

Meanwhile, as the railway ministry attempted to sooth people's anxieties over the high-speed line, domestic airlines began to improve services in a bid to win back passengers.

The civil aviation regulator yesterday urged domestic airlines to extend check-in services and airports to add security channels for Shanghai-Beijing flights.

The moves were among 17 measures that the Civil Aviation Administration of China issued to lure passengers from its rail rival.

Passengers without check-in luggage can check in as late as 20 minutes ahead of departure, compared with the previous 30, and others can check in as late as 25 minutes before.

In the case of delays, air traffic controllers should estimate a departure time and inform airlines as soon as possible to avoid passengers waiting in planes for a long time.

Air China and China Eastern Airlines, the major operators on the route, were each told to park a backup plane in Beijing and at Shanghai's Hongqiao International Airport to ensure normal operations in the event of problems.

More express buses will be arranged to shuttle between downtown terminals and airports to shorten the travel time for passengers.

The regulator also called on airlines to add first-class and business-class seats, as well as expand airport facilities for VIP-card holders.

Luo Zhuping, of China Eastern Airlines, said that, 10 days after the rail service had begun, its passenger numbers were down 18 percent.

Source: Shanghai Daily
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