Fast trains to run at reduced speed

China's high-speed railways will run at a slower speed than previously expected, according to the newly appointed railways minister.

In an interview with People's Daily published on Wednesday, Sheng Guangzu, who took on the role on Feb 25 replacing former railways minister Liu Zhijun, said high-speed trains will run at 300 kilometers per hour starting from July 1, instead of the previously announced 350 km/h.

The change to the country's high-speed rail network was made after Liu stepped down when he became the subject of an investigation for an alleged "severe violation of discipline" on Feb 12.

Sheng said in the interview that only the four east-west and four north-south artery lines of the high-speed rail network will carry trains at 300 km/h.

The inter-city lines that usually connect major centers within regions should be operated at between 200 and 250 km/h, while most railways in central and western China will operate at less than 200 km/h.

To placate passengers who complain they are forced to ride on high-speed trains and pay more because the ministry canceled slower trains, he said there will be other options. For example, the 300-km/h lines will also operate bullet trains at between 200 and 250 km/h.

The new policy is a change from the one publicized during Liu's time.

Previously, China was expecting to build a high-speed rail network with an operational speed of 350 km/h or more.

The landmark Beijing-Shanghai high-speed railway was built to run trains at 380 km/h that could compete with airlines. But Sheng did not say whether the line will still run that fast when it opens in June.

Zhao Jian, a transport professor at Beijing Jiaotong University, told China Daily that the speeds should have been slower right from the start.

"Because, at 300 km/h or less, the high-speed rail network can operate in a more economically efficient and safer way," he said.

The energy consumption of trains at 350 km/h could be twice that of trains at 200 km/h, he explained.

For passengers, a lowered speed could mean a cut in ticket prices in the future.

Wang Yongping, spokesman for the ministry, said on Wednesday that the lowering of the operational speed will "provide a bigger price-float range", without elaborating.

Ha Yanmei, who commutes between Beijing and Tianjin every weekend, said the ticket price for high-speed trains should drop along with the speed.

"Otherwise, I will feel I am cheated by the ministry," she said.

As for concerns about whether railway construction will also slow down, Sheng said such work between 2011 and 2015 will be rolled out fast across the country, with an investment of 2.8 trillion yuan (US$428 billion) allocated for it.

As planned, the country's railway network will stretch to 120,000 km by the end of 2015, up from the current 91,000 km, he said.

But he stressed that priority will be given to ongoing projects to make sure they have enough funds for construction to be completed, and emphasis will be given to projects that are in urgent demand because of economic development.

Zhao said the arrangement could mean some projects might be cut or postponed.

"In addition to cutting some projects, the ministry should also adjust some ongoing projects as well," he said, adding that the planned 350-km/h railway between Xi'an and Urumqi should be built to operate at 200 km/h.

The ministry also plans to ask passengers to provide their real names when buying bullet train tickets starting June 1.

From the end of June, the Beijing-Shanghai high-speed railway will be the first line in China to start selling tickets online. Online sales will be extended to other lines at the end of this year.

( China Daily, April 14, 2011 )