China Slows Its Bullet Trains
In the aftermath of the Wenzhou crash, where two Chinese high speed trains collided after a lighting strike caused a signal to fail, the Chinese high speed rail system has been coming under intense domestic scrutiny for its perceived safety lapses. In response to public pressure, the Chinese government this week announced it is dropping speeds on most of its HSR routes:
According to the new schedule issued by the Ministry of Railways, high-speed lines with a designed speed of 350 km/h will be allowed to run at 300 km/h from Sunday.
Lines operating at 250 km/h will now run at 200 km/h, and passenger trains that used to run at 200 km/h on older lines will operate at 160 km/h.
Other schedule changes will affect the overall system, but these are to be matched with a 5% drop in ticket prices. Whether that is enough to stem growing criticism in China of the bullet trains’ safety record is another question entirely.
The move to reduce speeds may wind up validating criticisms that the Chinese Ministry of Railways was operating its trains too fast. The chairman of JR Central was one of those who argued that China was too close to maximum safe speeds. That was seen at the time as the words of a rival, but the events of the summer of 2011 have certainly caused a big black eye to China’s flagship infrastructure project.
On the other hand, lowering speeds and fares is a smart move to rebuild public confidence in the system. We’ll see how this plays out in the months to come. China has bet heavily on high speed rail, and it’s a bet they are still likely to win.