Friday, February 18, 2011

Chinese Railway Chief Fired

Some very interesting reporting in the NYT this morning:
In his seven years as chief of the Chinese Railways Ministry, Liu Zhijun built a commercial and political colossus that spanned continents and elevated the lowly train to a national symbol of pride and technological prowess.

His abrupt sacking by the Communist Party is casting that empire in a decidedly different light, raising doubts not only about Mr. Liu’s stewardship and the corruption that dogs China’s vast public-works projects, but also, perhaps, the safety, financial soundness and long-term viability of a rail system that has captured the world’s attention.

Whatever their problems with Mr. Liu, Chinese officials indicated this week that the high-speed rail project would proceed with the government’s full support. But they have not explained why they summarily fired the leader of one of their signature projects.

There are some clues in top officials’ public statements since the scandal broke. Speaking on Monday in Beijing, the official who is believed to be the country’s new railways chief, Sheng Guangzu, said the ministry would “place quality and safety at the center of construction projects.” For good measure, he added that safety was his highest priority.

The statement underscored concerns in some quarters that Mr. Liu cut corners in his all-out push to extend the rail system and to keep the project on schedule and within its budget. No accidents have been reported on the high-speed rail network, but reports suggest that construction quality may at times have been shoddy.

A person with ties to the ministry said that the concrete bases for the system’s tracks were so cheaply made, with inadequate use of chemical hardening agents, that trains would be unable to maintain their current speeds of about 217 miles per hour for more than a few years. In as little as five years, lower speeds, possibly below about 186 miles per hour, could be required as the rails become less straight, the expert said.
It will be interesting in coming years to see what cracks open up in the Chinese miracle. I can't tell if this is a small one, or the early stages of a big one.


Nebris said...

I personally suspect it's the early stages of a big one and it's likely to rattle a few plates in America's cupboard, too.

BS said...

A few years ago, the bridge between Seoul and Inchon Korea FELL DOWN. Several people were killed. Bad concrete.

Kevthefarmer said...

The utterances of a former British Railways permanent way (track) design technician- me , that is...
The very concept of running at such high speeds over such long distances is ludicrous in my view. Anyone with rudimentary knowledge of physics knows that the energy required to accellerate to a given speed and to maintain that speed against the viscous drag of the air quadruples at each doubling of the speed. Likewise the destructive forces imposed on the track increase as the square of the speed- that is, at 200mph they are four times as destructive as at 100mph. A 100mph class track, for optimum durability, uses concrete sleepers (ties) weighing 800 lbs each at a little over 2ft. spacings to resist the static and dynamic loadings from traffic and also the internal loadings such as thermal expansion in continuous track, which is a must-have for high speed running. Multiply these kind of loadings by a factor of more than four and try to imagine the construction required. To use lighter construction is possible, but only at the expense of much higher maintenence costs for a given safety standard.
My view is that the political masters demanded this project be built to accomodate unfeasibly high running speeds for the international kudos of the "wow!" factor. The Chinese economic "miracle" is bound to falter / is already faltering for all the same reasons that other economies have. The vain and foolish political masters, having built this flagship of vanity, have realised they will not be able to afford to run and naintain it it (just like the British Airways / Air France Concorde actually). Liu Zhijun is the chosen whipping-boy to be sacrificed to save the face of the political masters.

TC Burnett said...

It seems to me as though multiple problems could be solved at once, assuming we survive the rapid-onset extinction event I believe we are entering.

String rail systems do not particularly appeal to me, but conventional sleeper/rail technology is not effective either (as explained above).

One can imagine inverted 'L' systems dangling from 1200kV transmission lines.

a hui hou
Dr. Tom

porsena said...

Looks 'non-technical' according to the China Daily, Feb 14.
The newly appointed Party chief of the Ministry of Railways, Sheng Guangzu, said the ongoing investigation into the activities of his predecessor shows the Party's resolve to punish corrupt officials and pursue clean governance....
Liu is the latest in a number of senior officials to be investigated during the country's battle against corruption.... According to the CCDI and the Ministry of Supervision, Zhang abused his position to receive "a large amount of money" in bribes.