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China suspends new railway projects after crash

11 august 2011, 12:47
China has suspended all new railway construction projects, the government said, nearly three weeks after a fatal crash that sparked fears over the safety of its high-speed rail network, AFP reports.

The government said it had also cut the speed of trains running on newly built high-speed rail lines and will conduct safety checks on all existing high-speed links as well as those under construction.

"We will suspend for the time being the examination and approval of new railway construction projects," said a statement issued by the State Council, or cabinet, late Wednesday.

The government will also "thoroughly study" the projects that have already been submitted to it for approval, it added.

Developing the world's largest high-speed rail network has been a key political goal for Beijing, but the death of 40 people in a collision of two high-speed trains on July 23 provoked outrage and forced it to rethink.

The crash -- China's worst rail accident since 2008 -- triggered a flood of criticism of the railways ministry and accusations that the government had compromised safety in its rush to develop.

Even China's official media weighed in, with Communist Party mouthpiece the People's Daily saying the country did not need "blood-soaked GDP".

"We feel deep guilt and sorrow about the tragic losses of life and property in the accident," Railways Minister Sheng Guangzu said in the statement, issued after a State Council meeting led by Premier Wen Jiabao.

The Railways Ministry on Thursday announced that trains designed to run at a maximum speed of 250 kilometres (155 miles) per hour would instead be limited to 200 kph.

Ticket prices for the affected trains will be reduced accordingly, it said.

Adding to the controversy, a Chinese bullet train manufacturer said Wednesday it had been told to stop shipments after a series of delays on a new, flagship high-speed rail link between Beijing and Shanghai.

China's railway ministry ordered the halt after problems with high-speed trains manufactured by a unit of listed company China CNR Corp, the company said in a statement.

China has the world's biggest high-speed rail network, reaching 8,358 kilometres at the end of 2010. It had said the network would exceed 13,000 kilometres by 2012 and 16,000 kilometres by 2020.

In December 2010, the railways ministry announced that a high-speed train had reached a speed of 486 kilometres per hour, smashing the world record for an unmodified train.

But authorities had already decided earlier this year to limit speeds on the high-speed network to 300 kph, following allegations of corruption.

China's state auditor in March said construction companies and individuals last year siphoned off 187 million yuan ($29.2 million) in funds meant for the Beijing-Shanghai link.

The revelation followed the February sacking of former railways minister Liu Zhijun, who allegedly took more than 800 million yuan in kickbacks over several years on contracts linked to the high-speed network.

By Fran Wang

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