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Railway projects move at slow speed

By Xin Dingding | China Daily | Updated: 2011-11-10 07:52

BEIJING - A number of high-speed railway projects slated to open this year will have their big day postponed to next year or later, railway construction companies said.

A 200 km/h railway between Hefei and Bengbu in East China's Anhui province was set to be ready for operation by Nov 20 this year, but its debut has been postponed to next year, said an official with China Railway 4th Group Co Limited, insisting on anonymity.

"Work on the project is still on ... but on a small scale, not in full swing," he said.

A publicity official with the company said that the tracks could not be completely laid because of a money crunch that the railways ministry faces.

"According to the contracts, the rails we lay out are provided by the project company established by the ministry. But it failed to provide the rails to us on time. That's why we still have not finished laying the tracks," she said.

Another rail project the company is involved in - the 350 km/h Shijiazhuang-Wuhan railway - is also set to have its opening postponed from this year to next year or later, she said.

The laying of the tracks for the 840-km line, part of the north-south trunk line connecting Beijing, Guangzhou and Shenzhen, is complete. But the remaining work, such as testing the project's electricity supply, is not finished yet, she said.

Zhang Cheng, deputy general manager of China Railway 11th Bureau Group Co Ltd, was quoted by Xinhua News Agency as saying that the delay resulted from railway authorities' carrying out national railway-safety overhauls after the Wenzhou train crash in July that killed 40 passengers.

The safety checkups led to those projects making a slow progress, Zhang said.

Xinhua reported that apart from the Shijiazhuang-Wuhan railway, three other railways coming out of Wuhan, capital of Central China's Hubei province, have been delayed too.

In Northeast China, a railway linking Harbin and Dalian, which is scheduled to open this year, is also sure to be delayed, because work on the line has been suspended since the accident and has not resumed yet, said an official with Shenyang railway bureau, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

"In the past, speed was the most important thing. Nowadays, safety is the priority," he said.

After the deadly crash, Sheng Guangzu, the railway minister, ordered a slowing down of the speed of all bullet trains and stressed that there should be no rush to finish construction work earlier than the stipulated period.

Insiders believe that the widespread delay in making new lines operational is also caused by a fund shortage faced by the ministry.

The Ministry of Railways was reportedly unable to raise enough money to support the extensive railway construction spanning more than 10,000 km, as the cash flow was tightened and its reputation took a beating following the accident.

But now with a fresh allotment of 200 billion yuan ($31.6 billion) from the central government, the railways ministry has promised to pay off some of its creditors before Nov 20 to guarantee the progress of key projects. On Tuesday, it auctioned 30 billion yuan worth of bonds.

Still, the delay from this year to next year comes as a blow to some passengers who had expected to go on board fast trains soon.

Cui Li, a 23-year-old woman in Bengbu of Anhui province, who travels to Hefei on business once a month, said she took a two-to-three hour bus ride between the two cities.

"The new train service would take only 40 minutes (to cover the distance). The train currently available is an old one. It is really unpleasant to ride on," she said.

"I heard the delay was to ensure safety, but the likelihood of high-speed train accidents is extremely small, almost the same as that on plane rides. My colleagues and I care more about convenience," she said.

But others supported the ministry's new emphasis on safety.

Chen Tianhong, a 24-year-old student at Wuhan University from Jiangxi province, said it was very thoughtful of the government to delay opening new lines out of safety concerns.

"A rapid expansion of transportation infrastructures will bring about more disasters someday. Safety issues require more attention than speed," he said.

Wu Yong and Jin Huiyu contributed to this story.

China Daily

(China Daily 11/10/2011 page5)

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