April 19, 2014

Safety a victim in China’s high-speed rail effort

China’s effort to lead the world in high-speed rail development appears to be moving forward at the expense of safety, reports The Washington Post.

The Chinese government, reports the newspaper, has ordered all high-speed trains to reduce their top speed from some 220 mph to 186 mph, calling safety concerns of those trains “severe.”

Reportedly, inferior materials have been used, creating safety concerns. Separately, the Congressional Budget Office said China has imposed lower crashworthiness standards for its passenger trains than are imposed in the United States.

Last year, it was reported by the Progressive Policy Institute that China had embarked on a goal of a north-south and east-west nationwide grid of 220-mph long distance trains — all to be in operation by 2020.

Says The Washington Post, “With the latest revelations, the shining new emblem of China’s modernization now looks more like an example of many of the interlinking problems plaguing the country: top-level corruption, concerns about construction quality and a lack of public input into the planning of large-scale projects.”

In the United States, the Obama administration envisions a high-speed rail passenger network over dedicated electrified lines with trains operating at speeds of 125-220-mph linking major population centers 200-600 miles apart.

But federal budget cutting has imperiled that plan.

Amtrak President Joseph Boardman has his own vision — a 30-year, $117 billion Northeast Corridor improvement project that would link Washington, D.C., Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York and Boston with 220-mph passenger trains cutting trip times to 84 minutes between New York and Boston and 96 minutes between New York and Washington.

Boardman told Railway Age magazine that Amtrak envisions operating other high-speed rail corridors as they move toward development.

In early April testimony before the House Rail Subcommittee, Amtrak’s vice president for government affairs, Joe McHugh, urged Congress to provide dedicate, multi-year funding for intercity and high-speed rail; establish a national investment strategy; create a clear and leading role for Amtrak; ensure coordinated corridor planning and project execution; and address liability and insurance issues.