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Putting the rail system back on track

(Global Times)

09:16, August 11, 2011

Amid grief and anger following last month's deadly train crash, people's disappointment in high-speed rail technology, as well as distrust in the country's railway administration, was palpable. Many people are debating online whether they are willing to take the risk and ride the bullet train, a form of transport that can evidently be as deadly as its name.

The high-speed train from Beijing to Fuzhou rear-ended another high-speed train leaving for the same destination near Wenzhou in Zhejiang Province on the evening of July 23. The railway authorities said that a failure in the signal system, caused by a lightning strike which led to a power cut, was behind the deadly collision.

Suddenly, the high-speed rail had become a jinx that everybody was desperate to keep a safe distance from.

A survey conducted after the crash by showed that of 1,909 respondents, 73 percent said they would never travel by high-speed train again, while only 27 percent said that they still had confidence in the system.

Although it seems the online majority have made their minds up in this regard, I seriously doubt it's a promise they will be able to stick to, if for no other reason than the lack of transport alternatives.

Some may argue that people can choose planes over high-speed trains. However, not everyone can afford to fly. Even for those who are willing to buy a plane ticket, it is increasingly difficult to get discounts. According to leading travel website, the majority of flight tickets from Shanghai to Beijing are being sold at full price, with only a few tickets being offered at a 10 percent discount. Shanghai-Beijing air tickets were often offered at a 50 percent discount before the high-speed rail crash.

There are even fewer possibilities for people traveling during the chunyun period, or the Spring Festival transportation season. According to a report by Xinhua News Agency in this January, the number of passenger trips during the last chunyun period reached 2.8 billion, more than double the country's total population. The existing railway network is under great pressure, and usually falls short of catering to everyone who needs a ride. People should consider themselves lucky if they get a ticket in the first place.

The truth is that whether you want to use it or not the rail system is an indispensable part of our lives. As a comparison, there are a multitude of food scandals plaguing China at the moment, but not many people have stopped eating in protest. I'm afraid our relationship with rail travel is similarly interdependent. The most we can hope for is that the railway authorities slow down the breakneck pace of high-speed rail construction, and pays more respect to human lives.


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