High speeds not enough for high-speed railways

10:50, July 14, 2011      

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The operation of the Beijing-Shanghai High-Speed Railway created much excitement in the Chinese media circle. The high-speed railway was constructed based on the principles of "safety, comfort and environmental protection," and was constructed with world-class engineering. All Chinese people look forward to takinh this high-speed railway. It will now only take people four to five hours to travel from Beijing to Shanghai by train. This wonderful feeling quickly spawned a number of high-speed railway fans, and high-speed railways have become a hot spot.

We have reasons to be proud. China gave priority to the development of high-speed railways as a strategic and emerging industry after the global financial crisis and gave strong support in aspects such as financial investment, construction land, technology innovation and business environment. China has become the world's fastest growing country in high-speed railways, and Westerners even said, "China really leads the world in high-speed railways."

However, there have been some problems with the Beijing-Shanghai High-Speed Railway since it was officially opened on June. 30.

On the afternoon of July 10, 19 trains to Shanghai on the Beijing–Shanghai High-Speed Railway were overdue, leaving passengers in de-energized sweltering carriages very anxious, because of thunderstorms and strong winds within Shandong Province. Two days later, power failure delayed some trains on the Suzhou section of the line at noon of July 12. This has led people to be somewhat uneasy and dissatisfied with high-speed train travel.

Ticket service is also disturbing. Although passengers have just enjoyed the convenience of buying paperless high-speed train tickets online and boarding trains by swiping ID cards, some of them have been inconvenienced after they changed their travel schedules: it is easy for them to buy tickets but is difficult to get a refund for their tickets. Ticket service operators charge a refund fee equivalent to 20 percent of the ticket value even if ticket holders return the tickets several days ahead of the departure date. Ticket holders who bought tickets online or through automatic vending machines are not entitled to any refund unless they go to the railway stations and present their ID and bank cards.

This has shown that although China's high-speed railway operators maintain the world's highest operating speed of high-speed railway trains, they are far from being good enough and should review themselves: whether or not emergency response plans are put in place in case of abnormal weather? Whether sufficient technical facilities are available in emergency situations? How to comfort passengers and share the losses in case of power failure and train delays? Whether ticket service can be improved to better meet the needs of passengers? Whether the procedures of high-speed railway operations are scrupulous? Whether the rights of the large number of passengers who cannot afford expensive high-speed train ticket prices can be respected?

The speed of trains can be increased relatively quickly, but it will be difficult for the service awareness, guarantee level and management system to immediately keep pace. China's railway sector remains highly centralized. Although the centralization has helped improve decision-making efficiency and made it possible to concentrate resources on major tasks, it has made railway authorities develop the habit of ignoring passengers' needs and interests, which does not suit the market economy. Chinese railway passengers have been at a weak position for a long time.

In fact, no matter whether they are cheering or complaining, the people's great attention to high-speed railways is the most valuable social resource for the railway sector and can add momentum to railway reform. The massive investments in high-speed railways come from the people, so railway authorities should make greater efforts to develop the high-speed railway into a really safe, comfortable, and convenient way to travel.

China is leading the world in high-speed railway construction, but more attention should be paid to the needs and interests of passengers to ensure fast and comfortable travel.

By Li Hongbing from People's Daily and the article is translated by People's Daily Online.

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