China / Hot Issues

Annual sessions touch on everyday problems

By Bai Ping (China Daily) Updated: 2016-03-08 08:15

When top political advisers and lawmakers gather in Beijing around this time every year, I always follow their discussions of important issues, including those that I wasn't even aware of, such as why much-lauded high-speed trains haven't been moving at full throttle.

The train controversy first surfaced when a domestic news website reported the conversation between two members of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, during a ride on the high-speed rail to attend the political meetings that started last Thursday. The CPPCC members from Henan province marveled at how the new rolling stock at 300 km/h had changed their travel experience. It takes two and a half hours from the provincial capital to Beijing, compared with more than 10 hours before.

But one member, Song Fengqiang, was quick to point out that he had traveled at 350km/h that the Chinese high-speed trains were designed for, until a fatal disaster in 2011 slowed the lines to the current speed.

Song, who heads a farming company, said he was going to make a proposal to the CPPCC to restore 350km/h lines wherever possible, if safety can be guaranteed.

It's obvious why his idea is striking a chord with the public, as steep time savings could make travelers a lot more productive and happier.

Over the past couple of years, I have regularly taken high-speed trains in China. Except one snowing day, the electronic speedometer at the front of the carriage usually reads from 250km/h to 300km/h.

The fare is cheaper than flying if you ride in second class. My rides last from 4-7 hours, which I spend watching film downloads on my laptop connected to a power socket under the seat. I'm content with the modern rail, and I've never thought it should go faster, as I grew up with shabby, jam-packed trains that could run one day or two for the same distance.

Still, I'm glad that a CPPCC member has brought up the issue because a shortened trip allows us to spend hours more on work or with our families. And the loss of productivity could be colossal if we consider that Chinese high-speed lines, the longest in the world, now connect almost all major Chinese cities. Of every 10 people who traveled by train last year, four were on such tracks.

The CPPCC, as the top political advisory body, is a force to be reckoned with. Of the 6,012 proposals raised since the CPPCC's previous session, 5,027 were deemed useful and passed over to authorities, and 5,003 were already addressed.

In initial reactions, those who represent the railway sector at the meetings have come forward to defend the slower speed, citing cost and operations as reasons.

I'll keep my fingers crossed about what will come to this debate. But it's heartening to see members being proactive in major decision-making processes and getting vocal in policy debates.

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