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China's State Council orders safety checks on high-speed rails, slower running speeds
2011/08/12

The State Council, or the Cabinet, on Wednesday ordered safety checks on high-speed railways and slower running speeds after a fatal collision raised concerns over the fast-growing high-speed rail sector.

The decision was made at an executive meeting of the State Council, which was presided over by Premier Wen Jiabao, in the wake of a deadly bullet train crash that killed 40 people last month.

The safety checks cover high-speed railways that are both in operation and under construction, said a statement released after the meeting, without saying when the task will start.

The State Administration of Work Safety will lead the inspection on equipment quality, operation safety, and design and quality of rails under construction, the statement said.

The government will reevaluate the system safety on rail projects that have received government approval but have not commenced construction, the statement said, requiring a temporary halt of approval of new railway projects.

The government will ramp up investment to improve operation safety of high-speed trains.

The safety of the high-speed railways was questioned after high-speed trains on a line near the eastern city of Wenzhou collided on July 23, leaving 40 people dead and 191 injured. The incident has been blamed on faulty signalling equipment.

"We feel deep guilt and sorrow about the tragic losses of life and property in the accident," said Sheng Guangzu, Minister of Railways, at the meeting.

The accident has exposed holes in safety and management of rail traffic, as well as the lack of experiences in handling emergencies, he said.

The investigation into the causes and compensation are currently underway, the statement said.

The statement also ordered newly-built high-speed rails to run at slower speeds during the initial stages. More ordinary trains will be added to railways after the government implements the newly reduced speeds for bullet trains, the statement added. 

Sheng Guangzu told Xinhua that rails with a designed maximum speed of 350 km per hour will run at 300 km, those with designed maximum speed of 250 km per hour will run at 200 km per hour, and those whose speed has been lifted to 200 km per hour will run at 160 km per hour.

Ticket fares will be trimmed accordingly, he said.

"China will unswervingly continue its development of high-speed railways," the statement noted, stressing that quality will be the first priority.

China launched operation of its bullet trains in 2007. By the end of 2010, 8,358 km of high-speed railways had been put into operation, ranking first in the world in terms of length.

According to the railway network development plan, which was revised in 2008, the total length of the country's railways is expected to reach 16,000 km by 2020.

The railways ministry issued 20 billion yuan (3.1 billion U.S. dollars) of super short-term commercial papers with a maturity of 90 days to build railways, buy locomotives and improve liquidity.

It was the first issuance since the accident and the fourth batch of this year by the ministry, in a bid to fund China's expanding rail network.

Adding to public concerns are recent recurrent delays on the new high-speed line between Beijing and Shanghai, which began running at the end of June.

China North Locomotive and Rolling Stock, one of the country's two leading train manufacturers, said in a statement filed to the Shanghai Stock Exchange that it has been asked by the railways ministry to temporarily stop deliveries.

The company said an automatic safety system installed in its CRH380 trains had been working improperly, leading to delays.

It said it will examine and adjust its bullet trains to ensure efficiency and punctuality.

The train collision has dented the company's share price, which fell from 6.50 yuan on July 22 to 4.97 yuan at Wednesday's close.

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