After China’s railways minister was removed for corruption, various safety concerns over China’s high-speed trains have emerged, including a senior train engineer vowing never to ride these trains.            


(Translated copy from Sing Tao Daily)

After Chinese Railways Minister Liu Zhijun was removed, it has been revealed that China’s high-speed railway system, currently developing at breakneck speed, has been running at a loss of over RMB$1 trillion (about US$1,000 billion). There is also a host of safety risks related to rushed construction, lousy quality control of raw materials, insufficient time allowed for the settlement of railway subgrade, and allegedly shoddy work. A European specialist invited to China was said to have stormed out of a meeting, and a Chinese engineer has vowed to “never take China’s high-speed trains in my life”. The Chinese government is calling for a reassessment of the safety of high-speed railways.

Under Liu, the operational high-speed rail network has expanded to 4,670 kilometres by the end of 2010, half of which having a speed of 350 kilometres per hour. Last year, the network carried 800,000 passengers per day. The Beijing-Shanghai High-Speed Railway, to be launched in June 2011, hit a world record of over 486 kilometres per hour during a trial run recently.

According to the Chinese website, after Liu was removed, the State Council (the Chinese cabinet) has invited experts to several meetings to look at the safety of China’s high-speed railway. Eventually a range of safety issues were uncovered.

One expert said: “It usually takes 10 years to build a high-speed rail network in Europe. China took only two years. Rushed work schedule is a serious problem, which has given rise to a host of issues, including low quality of equipment.”

“Numerous lines and projects tend to be built at the same time, and demand for resources is massive,” said a supplier. Such demand can hardly be fulfilled even when factory workers work overtime, and the supply schedules have been compressed drastically. “Quality fails to meet the ambitions. Sometimes there’s even no time to do random check.”

Subgrade beneath all high-speed rail lines is normally subject to strict requirements. For all kinds of rails, it takes an average of five years for the subgrade to settle naturally. China, however, did not allow a single day for the settlement. Instead it got around the issue by building above-ground railways, or maximizing the lengths of straight rails. Experts say such methods put the security of the railway system in doubt.

Another problem has to do with the long line of production, stretched by the employment of numerous subcontractors in order to build a large number of high-speed railways within a short period of time. Many untrained migrant workers have been assigned to highly technical tasks.

The New York Times quoted a source from the Ministry of Railways as saying China’s high-speed railways have been built with insufficient chemical hardeners. In addition, the pillars supporting above-ground rails might have been jerry-built due to supply shortage in coal ash.

The Ministry of Railways has hired a supervisory engineer from Germany to conduct on-the-spot quality control. The specialist has reportedly urged railway managers and workers to slow down the speed of the trains, but no one heeded his call. He was said to have stormed out of a meeting.

Du Junxiao, head of the Sha’anxi bureau of state-run paper People’s Daily, said in his blog that an engineer of the Ministry Railways said before he retired that “I will never take China’s high-speed trains in my life”.

Translated copy (Sing Tao Daily, 1 March 2011)