สำนักข่าวต่างประเทศ รายงานว่า ภายในเดือนมิ.ย.นี้ ทางการจีนพร้อมเปิดให้บริการรถไฟความเร็วสูง เส้นทางกรุงปักกิ่ง-มหานครเซี่ยงไฮ้ ระยะทาง 1,318 กิโลเมตร จะใช้เวลาเดินทางราว 5 ชั่วโมง หรือนานที่สุดไม่ถึง 8 ชั่วโมง ลดลงครึ่งหนึ่งของช่วงเวลาการเดินทางก่อนหน้านี้ ความเร็วเฉลี่ยถูกกำหนดที่ราว 300 กิโลเมตรต่อชั่วโมง ราคาตั๋วโดยสารอยู่ที่ 410 ถึง 1,750 หยวน หรือราว 2,000 ถึงเกือบ 9,000 บาท ขึ้นอยู่กับที่นั่งชั้นโดยสาร
ทั้งนี้ การทดลองแล่นรถไฟขบวนดังกล่าวเริ่มมาตั้งแต่ 11 พ.ค. แต่รัฐบาลจีนจะทำพิธีเปิดขบวนรถไฟความเร็วสูงอย่างเป็นทางการวันที่ 1 ก.ค.นี้ เนื่องในโอกาสครบรอบ 90 ปี ก่อตั้งพรรคคอมมิวนิสต์
China Puts Brakes on High-Speed TrainsBy BRIAN SPEGELE ()
BEIJING—China will begin forcing its growing fleet of high-speed trains to operate at slower speeds, the country's railways chief said in an interview with state-run media, in the latest sign of trouble for the country's most vaunted transportation project.
Sheng Guangzu, head of China's Ministry of Railways, said in an interview with the Communist Party's People's Daily newspaper published Wednesday that the decision will make tickets more affordable and improve energy efficiency on the country's high-speed railways.
Mr. Sheng, who took over the Ministry of Railways in February after his predecessor resigned amid a corruption investigation, said trains in China needed to serve all parts of society.
[CRAIL_SUB] European Pressphoto Agency
A Chinese high-speed train sits in a railway station in Nanjing.
"China is vast and there are regional differences in economic and social development, so railway construction norms can't be uniform," Mr. Sheng said in the interview. He didn't specify how much ticket prices might be reduced.
China's vast and expensive railway project has been mired in corruption in recent months and has faced growing concerns about its debt. An anticorruption crackdown at the Railways Ministry forced the resignation of its former chief earlier in February.
The state-run Xinhua news agency reported last month that some $28.5 million had been embezzled as part of the Beijing-to-Shanghai high-speed rail project, which has been celebrated by officials as one of China's greatest transportation achievements. That probe has widened in recent weeks to include Zhang Shuguang, a chief ministry engineer.
High-speed rail in China has grown steadily in scope and train speed in recent years. The World Bank estimated in a report last year that by 2012 China will have at least 42 trains with maximum speeds above 250 kilometers an hour and will have laid more high-speed railway than the rest of the world combined. China's government has invested heavily in the projects as well: The Beijing-Shanghai line alone costs around $33 billion.
Experts have questioned the safety of China's high-speed railways. An executive at a non-Chinese high-speed train manufacturer said running trains above speeds of 330 kilometers an hour poses safety concerns and higher costs. At that speed threshold, wheels slip so much that you need bigger motors and significantly more electricity to operate. There is also so much wear on the tracks that costs for daily inspections, maintenance and repairs go up sharply. That's why in Europe, Japan and Korea no operators run trains above 320 kilometers an hour, the executive said, adding that above 330-350 kilometers an hour it is safer and possibly cheaper to float the trains magnetically.
In the interview, Mr. Sheng said high-speed trains will begin operating at a maximum 300 kilometers an hour from July 1, compared with previous speeds of around 350 kilometers an hour. Many of the country's intercity trains will operate at speeds between 200 and 250 kilometers an hour.
By 2012, China will have laid down more high-speed railway than the rest of the world combined, but ticket prices scare away many passengers
Improving energy efficiency in high-speed trains is one reason for the change, Mr. Sheng said. Trains operating at 350 kilometers an hour require twice as much energy as those operating at 200 kilometers an hour, he said.
Sun Zhang, an expert from Tongji University's Institute of Railway and Urban Rail Transit, said the disclosure signaled the government was beginning to listen to the demands of rail users. He said recent media reports about the high price of high-speed rail forced the ministry to re-examine the issue.
"Now different speeds and different prices will make more choices for consumers," he said.
Tickets for high-speed trains can be twice as expensive as the highest-class tickets on regular-speed trains. A high-speed rail ticket between eastern China's Wuhan and Guangzhou, for example, costs 469 yuan, or about $70. That is prohibitively expensive for many Chinese, and has resulted in at least some trains operating almost empty, industry experts say.
The People's Daily did not address the ongoing corruption scandal in its interview with Mr, Sheng. An internal investigation in February forced the resignation of the ministry's former chief, Liu Zhijun. No formal charges have been detailed against him. Xinhua said last month that the country's railway companies have accumulated about $271 billion in debt. Mr. Sheng previously told state-run media he thinks the debt load isn't a problem.
The People's Daily interview doesn't say how the country's celebrated Beijing-Shanghai high-speed rail route, which is under construction and slated to open in June, will be affected by the new measures. Trains running on that line are designed to operate at around 380 kilometers an hour, faster than any train in China today.
—Norihiko Shirouzu and Kersten Zhang contributed to this article.
Source: The Wall Street Journal (Dow Jones & Company, Inc.) 2011 (2554)