Apr 28, 2011

China's High-Speed Trains Coming Off the Rails

"The Washington Post reports that China's expanding network of ultramodern high-speed trains is coming under growing scrutiny over costs and because of concerns that builders ignored safety standards in the quest to build faster trains in record time as new leadership at the Railways Ministry announced that to enhance safety, the top speed of all trains was being decreased from about 218 mph to 186. Without elaborating, the ministry called the safety situation 'severe' and said it was launching safety checks along the entire network of tracks. Meanwhile China's Finance Ministry announced that the Railways Ministry continues to lose money as the ministry's debt stands at $276 billion, almost all borrowed from Chinese banks. 'In China, we will have a debt crisis — a high-speed rail debt crisis,' says Zhao Jian, a professor at Beijing Jiaotong University and longtime critic of high-speed rail who worries that the cost of the project might have created a hidden debt bomb that threatens China's banking system.

'I think it is more serious than your subprime mortgage crisis. You can always leave a house or use it. The rail system is there. It's a burden. You must operate the rail system, and when you operate it, the cost is very high.'"