China’s High Speed Rail Rocked by Corruption, Cost Overruns, Fatal Crash

At least 43 dead, 210 injured in head-on collision of two Chinese bullet trains Saturday. A power outage caused the crash.

Cross-posted at

The United States should halt all funding and development of high-speed rail in this country, based on the accidents, cost over-runs, corruption, and safety issues now plaguing the Chinese high-speed rail program. The Chinese have touted their bullet trains world-wide and have been a strong influence in the decisions here to proceed with designs and planning. Especially in light of the stringent budget-cutting needed in the stressed economy, high speed rail: poses an unacceptable financial risk in California or elsewhere the U.S.

Even the China Daily News, which has been supportive of the country’s high-speed rail, has just published an editorial calling for a top-to-bottom investigation into the Chinese bullet train program.

A head-on crash of two bullet trains along the brand new Beijing-Shanghai line during a power outage has killed at least 43 peopleand injured 210: last : weekend.Video of the crash “cleanup” just 24 hours later on Sunday has inflamed the Chinese public:

“Many were outraged over video that was posted online Sunday showing backhoes breaking apart carriages that had fallen off the elevated tracks. Another photograph online showed what some thought were the same backhoes burying parts of the train.

Internet users suspecting a coverup questioned how evidence could be destroyed so quickly and wondered if the carriages had been properly inspected by rescue teams for passengers first.”

This is just the latest in a series of mishaps:

“On Sunday, 10 days after the high-profile launch of the Beijing-Shanghai high-speed rail line, a dozen trains on route to Shanghai were halted for about 90 minutes following a power failure caused by thunderstorms and heavy winds in Shandong province.

On Tuesday, a power failure in Anhui province caused the delay of several trains, and this was followed on Wednesday by the breakdown of a train heading from Shanghai to Beijing, which delayed passengers by more than two hours.

The lack of a timely explanation from railway personnel about the nature of the problem caused anxiety and chaos among some passengers.

The three incidents on the Beijing-Shanghai line within only four days have resulted in public concern about the safety of high-speed trains and dissatisfaction with after-accident management and services.”


“China is building too quickly,” Zhao Jian, a professor of economics at Beijing Jiaotong University and long-time critic of China’s high-speed rail projects, said by telephone yesterday. “The result is this kind of accident.

The crash and other incidents expose the problems inherent in the scale of China’s infrastructure investments, Bill Barron, a visiting scholar at the Division of Environment at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, said in an e-mail.

“In so many areas, there is the lack of an adequately trained — and perhaps more importantly, experienced –workforce, along with tried-and-tested management oversight at the operational level,” he said. “Given the pace of expansion, how could there be?”

China’s high speed rail programhas been riddled with corruption from the very top all the way down to local rail stations:

“Su Shunhu, deputy chief of the transport bureau of the Ministry of Railways, was suspended from his post last month amid an investigation into possible corruption, according to a report on Wednesday by, a Chinese economic and business news portal.

The report cited anonymous insiders in the ministry, saying Su was suspected of having abused power to help a coalmine owner in the Inner Mongolia autonomous region transport coal by trains. Su was accused of having received a property in Beijing in return, which was part of the reason he was interrogated, the report said.

Su is the second bureau-level official to be detained after his superior officer Zhang Shuguang, former director of the bureau and the ministry’s deputy chief engineer, was removed from office in late February. Zhang was sacked for corruption involving the country’s high-speed rail projects.

Su made his last public appearance in early June, when the landmark Beijing-Shanghai high-speed railway was about to open. Media reports earlier quoted him as having said the new fast line would greatly benefit cargo transportation on the existing line due to splitting passenger from cargo transportation.

The fall of the two senior officials has increased speculation about how many railway officials may end up being investigated, following the removal of former minister of railways Liu Zhijun in February for alleged “severe violation of discipline”.

In June, three senior officials at Nanchang Railway Bureau and Hohhot Railway Bureau were put under investigation, signaling fights with corruption have reached local railway authorities.”

Three more high speed rail executives have just been fired after this weekend’s fatal collision:

“Authorities moved quickly to respond to public anger by sacking the head of the Shanghai railway bureau, his deputy and the bureau’s Communist Party chief, the Railways Ministry said in a statement on its website ( The three will “also be subject to investigation,” the statement added.”

The new Beijing to Shanghai high speed rail service which just opened in late June to great acclaim nationwide and worldwide is already reducing service due to low ridership:

“Two shuttle trains to Jinan, in Shandong province, one from Beijing, the other from Tianjin, will be “temporarily halted” starting Monday, according to a notice on the Tianjin Railway Station’s website on Wednesday.

This is the first time railway authorities have announced a reduction in service since the flagship 1,318-kilometer Beijing-Shanghai railway, the world’s longest fast track, opened late last month.

“The adjustment is aimed at reducing the unnecessary waste of resources”, an official at the publicity department at Beijing railway bureau, who declined to give her name, told China Daily on Friday.

She said that the seat occupancy rate of the two trains is less than 80 percent, lower than the railway authority’s required rate.”

Even the liberal American media which have supported the Obama administration’s push for high speed rail are now advocating caution. Washington Post’s Charles Lane recently travelled to China and filed a highly-critical report on high-speed rail:

“The Finance Ministry said last week that the Railways Ministry continued to lose money in the first quarter of this year. The ministry’s debt stands at $276 billion, almost all borrowed from Chinese banks.

“They’ve taken on a massive amount of debt to build it,” said Patrick Chovanec, who teaches at Tsinghua University. He said China accelerated construction of the high-speed rail network – including 295 sleek glass-and-marble train stations – as part of the country’s stimulus spending in response to the 2008 global financial crisis.

Zhao Jian, a professor at Beijing Jiaotong University and a longtime critic of high-speed rail, said he worries that the cost of the project might have created a hidden debt bomb that threatens China’s banking system.

“In China, we will have a debt crisis – a high-speed rail debt crisis,” he said. “I think it is more serious than your subprime mortgage crisis. You can always leave a house or use it. The rail system is there. It’s a burden. You must operate the rail system, and when you operate it, the cost is very high.”

Despite the scandal and technical problems in high speed rail at home, China is cynically finding ways to profiteer from HSR another way…. by peddling its bullet train “expertise” and services world-wide.

Proposed high speed rail line in Turkey

The only Chinese foreign train project now underway is a controversial undertaking in Turkey, where the rough terrain is driving up the cost of construction:

Boring through mountains in Turkey driving up cost of construction

“As high-speed rail develops rapidly in China, the country is working hard to sell its technology and products to Europe.

News reports have mentioned China’s ambitions to have its high-speed rail operating in European countries, including the United Kingdom, Bulgaria and Hungary.

But the project Wu and his colleagues, from the China Civil Engineering Construction Corp, are building in Turkey remains the only Chinese HSR project in Europe…….

Construction began in October 2008, and plans call for the line to open by December 2013……

Two Turkish companies, in partnership with China Civil Engineering, are doing the groundwork. In mountainous Turkey, Wu and his colleagues have frankly expressed their concern that the work may be delayed.

The terrain poses the biggest difficulty, said Zheng Jianbing, senior engineer and assistant president of China Civil Engineering. “Phase 2 is the most difficult part of the Ankara-Istanbul HSR.”

Although the project is just 158 km long, 55 km of it involves tunnels and 10 km is bridges. The longest tunnel is 6.1 km, the longest bridge 1.96 km. The highest part of the project is more than 800 meters above sea level, the lowest about 20 meters.”

Noone in Turkey seems to be asking whether the “high-speed” rail, even it is constructed over and under and through mountains, will actually run at high speeds considering the steep climbs.

Even the environmentalist press is beginning to see that high-speed rail is a fail:

“China’s 12th 5-year plan, running from 2011 to 2016 calls for 18,750 miles of new lines — not all of it high-speed – at a staggering cost of $432 billion. News agency AFP said the Beijing to Shanghai track cost $33 billion.

“Nobody said high-speed rail is cheap, but it could be worth it in terms of alleviating CO2 emissions from passengers who might otherwise travel by car or plane. Of course, the CO2 equation also depends on where the power that drives the train comes from, so don’t forget that China generates 80% of its electricity from coal-fired plants, which are true carbon culprits.”

If a high-speed train cannot truly operate at high-speed, has astronomical cost of construction, and doesn’t “save the planet” because it operates on coal-fired power, what is the point of building it?

Also read at China Daily:

Toddler rescued 21 hours after crash
58 trains suspended after train crash
More efforts urged to prevent accidents

Recent American media coverage:

China’s High-Speed Rail Hiccups –

Are China’s high-speed trains heading off the rails? Washingon Post –

China’s high-speed train: Glitches beset China’s new rail program Los Angeles Times



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