High-speed railways to slow down

China's Cabinet decided to put the brakes on the country's high-speed rail services at a meeting chaired by Premier Wen Jiabao yesterday.

The Cabinet called for thorough checks on all high-speed lines, those in service and those under construction, following the bullet train crash in Wenzhou last month which killed 40 people, and lower speeds on new lines during their initial stages.

Safety issues on planned rail projects need to be re-evaluated, the meeting said.

The State Administration of Work Safety will lead the inspection of equipment quality, operation safety, and design and quality of lines under construction, a statement issued after the meeting said.

The statement also ordered newly-built high-speed rails to run at slower speeds during initial stages for safety reasons and to allow improvements in techniques and management.

The government will reevaluate safety systems on rail projects that have received government approval but had not yet commenced construction, the statement said, requiring a halt to the approval of new projects.

Rail services with a top speed of 350 kilometers per hour would be cut to 300kph while those with a top speed of 250kph would be limited to 200kph, said Railway Minister Sheng Guangzu. Rails whose speed has been lifted to 200kmh will run at 160kmh. "Ticket prices will also be lowered with the trains slowed down," Sheng said.

Speeds on the Shanghai-Beijing line, which opened at the end of June, have already been limited to 300kph and 250kph.

Train schedules across the country will be adjusted once the Ministry of Railways introduces the new speeds.

The slowdown will be the first time speeds have been restricted across all China's high-speed routes since the late 1990s.

Sun Zhang, a professor with Shanghai Tongji University, said earlier that slowing down China's high-speed trains was the "right thing to do."

China has the world's longest bullet train rail track with 8,358 kilometers in service. But the network came under scrutiny after the deadly two-train collision on July 23.

Sheng has been promoting a slowdown since he was appointed in February, raising fears in the industry that railways could lose their competitiveness.

Liu Zhijun, the former railway minister who was sacked in a graft probe, was an advocate of high-speed railways and once boasted that trains on the Shanghai-Beijing high-speed line were designed to travel at up to 380kph.