China Rail Chief’s Firing Hints at Trouble

The New York Times investigates what the corruption scandal surrounding former Railway Minister Liu Zhijun means for the safety of China’s much-acclaimed high-speed rail network:

Speaking on Monday in Beijing, the official who is believed to be the country’s new railways chief, Sheng Guangzu, said the ministry would “place quality and safety at the center of construction projects.” For good measure, he added that safety was his highest priority.

The statement underscored concerns in some quarters that Mr. Liu cut corners in his all-out push to extend the rail system and to keep the project on schedule and within its budget. No accidents have been reported on the high-speed rail network, but reports suggest that construction quality may at times have been shoddy.

A person with ties to the ministry said that the concrete bases for the system’s tracks were so cheaply made, with inadequate use of chemical hardening agents, that trains would be unable to maintain their current speeds of about 217 miles per hour for more than a few years. In as little as five years, lower speeds, possibly below about 186 miles per hour, could be required as the rails become less straight, the expert said.

Strong concrete pillars require a large dose of high-quality fly ash, the byproduct of burning coal. But the speed of construction has far exceeded the available supply, according to a 2008 study by a Chinese railway design institute.

Such problems, the expert said, are caused by a combination of tight controls that have kept China’s costs far below Western levels and a strong aversion to buying higher-quality but more expensive equipment from foreign suppliers.

Meanwhile, propaganda officials put restrictions on the reporting of Liu’s case. Read more here, via CDT’s Latest Directives from the Ministry of Truth. Read more about China’s high-speed rail via CDT.

February 17, 2011 10:56 PM
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Categories: Economy, Politics, Sci-Tech