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Chinese Vice Premier calls for thorough rail safety checks

(Xinhua)

08:16, August 17, 2011

BEIJING, Aug. 16 (Xinhua) -- Vice Premier Zhang Dejiang on Tuesday urged a thorough overhaul of China's high-speed railways to prevent major accidents.

The checks, to run from mid-August to mid-September, aim to "thoroughly eliminate risks" concerning high-speed railways and "effectively prevent and resolutely curb" major railway accidents to ensure the safety of rail traffic, Zhang said at a mobilization meeting for the checks.

The safety of the country's high-speed railways was questioned after high-speed trains on a line near the eastern city of Wenzhou collided on July 23, leaving 40 people dead and 191 injured.

"The accident cautioned us that safety is the priority for railway development...Starting safety checks is a pressing need to raise the government's credibility and also a key measure to ensure the safety of railway transport," Zhang said.

The safety checks cover high-speed railways that are both in operation and under construction, according to a State Council statement released last week.

The State Administration of Work Safety will lead the inspection on equipment quality, operation safety, and design and quality of railways under construction.

The government will reevaluate the system safety on rail projects that have received government approval but have not commenced construction. It ordered a temporary halt of approval of new railway lines until the safety review can be completed, according to the statement.

The checks will be carried out by 12 teams composed of government officials and 175 technical experts. Officials of Ministry of Railways are not on the list.

The teams should make thorough checks of high-speed railways and not go through the motions, Zhang said.

He encouraged officials and experts to "go deep down to the grass-roots levels" for first-hand information and provide suggestions on how to improve rail safety.

Operations and constructions must be stopped instantly if any potential safety hazards are spotted, Zhang said.

The safety checks are the latest move by the government to regain the public's trust in the country's fast-growing high-speed rail sector.

Effective on Tuesday, bullet trains with a designed maximum speed of 350 km per hour start running at 300 km, those with designed maximum speeds of 250 km per hour run at 200 km per hour, and those with maximum speed 200 km per hour run at 160 km per hour.

Ticket prices have been trimmed accordingly.

"Cutting running speeds of bullet trains during the initial stages is necessary for the ministry to gather experience in the management of railway safety," railway minister Sheng Guangzu said.

Separately, the Ministry of Railways said Tuesday it decided to dismiss the ministry's spokesman Wang Yongping.

Wang's remarks at a press conference on July 24 triggered a torrent of public criticism.

When asked why a two and a half year old girl was pulled out of debris hours after the search and rescue team stopped their operations, he said "that is a miracle of life."

When questioned whether the ministry attempted to cover up the truth of the accident by burying train head, Wang replied the move mainly aimed to facilitate the rescue work. "Their explanation given is this. Whether you believe it or not, I believe it anyway," he said.

Wang will be transferred to a Warsaw-based international railway cooperative organization, according to a railway official who declined to be named.

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