China blocks work on bullet train line

High-speed rail is a prestige project for the communist government of China.

Beijing: Chinese environmental regulators have ordered a halt to construction of a planned bullet train line in a new sign Beijing might be scaling back ambitious plans for its showcase high-speed rail system.

High-speed rail is a prestige project for the communist government to showcase China`s technological prowess and rising prosperity. But its multibillion-dollar plans have prompted complaints they are too costly for a nation where many still live in poverty.

The Ministry of Environmental Protection said on Wednesday construction of a line linking Tianjin east of Beijing with the coastal city of Qinhuangdao to the northeast must stop because it lacks required environmental approvals.

Phone calls to the Railway Ministry press office on Thursday were not answered.

Official plans call for the high-speed network to grow to 8,000 miles (13,000 kilometres) of track this year and 10,000 miles (16,000 kilometres) by 2020.

The government signalled a possible shift in attitude when state media began airing criticism early this year. The official who was the public face of high-speed rail, the former railway minister, was fired in February in a graft probe, prompting suggestions his successor might scale back plans.

Last month, the government announced it would reduce the top speed of its fastest high-speed lines from 350 kph (220 mph) to 300 kph (190 mph) as of July 01 following warnings about possible safety risks.

It said lower-cost tickets would be made available following complaints many travellers couldn`t afford high-speed rail and regular trains were sold out during the Lunar New Year holiday travel season in February.

Also last month, the Environment Ministry ordered a high-speed line linking the eastern cities of Qingdao and Jinan to suspend operation until it completes an environmental approval process.

The Railway Ministry said this month it will invest CNY 745.5 billion (USD 115 billion) this year in its operations, including CNY 600 billion (USD 92 billion) on infrastructure. That appeared to contradict earlier news reports that spending would be cut sharply due to concern about the high cost of high-speed rail.

A key project is a CNY 215 billion (USD 32.5 billion), 1,318-kilometre (824-mile) Beijing-Shanghai line that is due to open next year.

Bureau Report

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