Smaller units to supervise railways
Updated: 2011-11-23 07:55
BEIJING - In its latest attempt to make the country's rail system safer, the Ministry of Railways has ordered its subordinate bureaus to divide up large railway stations and railroad and train maintenance units.
Once reformed, those entities will be charged with taking special care of high-speed railways.
The Beijing Railway Bureau, according to reports, has been the first to take steps in that direction. The Beijing South Railway Station, where trains that can run at 300 km an hour depart from Beijing for Shanghai and Tianjin, now governs itself.
Before the latest changes, the south station had operated under the Beijing Railway Station.
The Tianjin West Railway Station has also become independent. Both high-speed railway stations now operate directly under the Beijing Railway Bureau.
The ministry's plan calls not only for railway stations to be broken up, but also the large units that are responsible for maintaining rail tracks and trains.
"As the high-speed rail network is extended each unit should oversee a reasonable stretch of the rails ensuring that the management of high-speed railways will be more professional," the ministry said in a news release.
The large units that exist in the railway system resulted from reforms instituted in 2005 by the previous railway minister, Liu Zhijun. He eliminated many sub-bureaus to make the railway system more efficient.
His changes made 18 railway bureaus directly responsible for supervising thousands of railway stations and maintenance units - which proved to be too many for the bureaus.
To make their burden lighter, various railway stations and maintenance units were merged into bigger ones.
"Some railway maintenance units are responsible for railways that stretch for more than 1,000 km and cross several provinces," said a railway insider who declined to give his name. "Maintenance workers had to travel hundreds of miles to do their jobs."
Zhao Jian, a professor specializing in transport at Beijing Jiaotong University, said some units had employed as many as 10,000 workers, a number that was difficult to manage.
With rail safety becoming a top priority, the ministry's changes will make each unit responsible for supervising a fairly short stretch of railway. Some will specialize in overseeing high-speed railways and trains.
"It will be easier to manage fewer employees," Zhao said.
Passengers should not be worried about how the reforms will affect them, said a publicity official with the Beijing Railway Station who did not want to provide his full name. He said they are "more of a change inside the railway system".
Meanwhile, the ministry called on railway bureaus to pay closer attention to the condition of the high-speed rail system, especially during the winter, when there will be more snowfalls and freezing weather.
The two measures come as the public awaits a yet-to-be-published report explaining the causes of the deadly bullet-train crash that occurred in Wenzhou in July, killing 40 people and leaving nearly 200 injured.
A report in the Beijing Times on Monday quoted Wang Mengshu, an expert investigator looking into the crash, as saying that "the biggest flaw was not in technology, but in the loopholes in management".
That statement contradicted the results of a preliminary investigation, which blamed the crash mainly on design flaws in the railway's signaling equipment.
Wang later told Xinhua News Agency that he had only expressed his own opinion and that his words had been misused in the report.