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Page last updated at 13:39 GMT, Monday, 28 April 2008 14:39 UK

Setback for China's expanding railway

By Michael Bristow
BBC News, Beijing

A new train on the Beijing-Tianjin line, file image
Many lines in China are being upgraded with faster trains


China's railways carry hundreds of millions of passengers every year, but over recent years there have been relatively few accidents.

The country's rail network is the most popular means of long-distance transport, carrying 1.36 billion passengers in 2007, according to the national news agency Xinhua.

But that year also saw a dramatic reduction in the number of deaths related to the railways, according to media reports.

To improve standards further, China has launched a massive project to extend its rail network and improve the quality of its tracks.

Reports suggest this latest accident in Shandong, which left dozens dead, is the biggest in more than a decade.

David Briginshaw, editor-in-chief of International Railway Journal, says that fact speaks volumes for China's safety standards.

"It's a busy railway carrying a huge amount of goods and passengers so it's a pretty good safety record," he said.

China is currently in the process of making major improvements to its rail network.

Last year, it launched new "bullet train" services on a series of routes, with trains travelling more than 200km/h (124mph).

Beijing train station, 28/04
Railways remain the most popular form of long-distance transport

It has also started manufacturing its own high-speed trains, the first of which rolled off the production line earlier this month.

Also this month, work started on a five-year project to build a high-speed rail link between Beijing and Shanghai.

When it is completed, this 221bn yuan ($32bn; 16bn) project is expected to cut the journey time between the two cities in half, from 10 to five hours.

Trains on this route are expected to travel at up to 350km/h, according to state media.

But China's railway network has struggled to keep pace with the country's fast-paced economic development over recent years.

Last year, Chinese trains carried more than three billion tonnes of cargo, 8% up on the year before.

Exceptionally cold weather in southern China earlier this year showed the importance of China's rail network.

The disruption to services left many factories and power plants without raw materials.

"China's railway service has long fallen short of demand," Li Heping, a researcher at the China Academy of Railway Sciences told state media earlier this year.

"There are two solutions: building more railways and raising the train speed."

Train speeds have indeed increased six times in the last 10 years.

Despite the relatively good safety record, the Ministry of Railways has promised to ensure safety over the forthcoming May Day holiday.

Over the holiday period, it expects to handle 5 million passengers a day.


SEE ALSO
'Dozens die' in China train crash
28 Apr 08 |  Asia-Pacific
Country profile: China
22 Feb 08 |  Country profiles
Timeline: China
22 Apr 08 |  Country profiles
Workers die in China rail tragedy
25 Jan 08 |  Asia-Pacific


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