Chinese Bullet Train Maker Halts Some Production

By JOE McDONALD | August 12, 2011

A Chinese bullet train manufacturer has halted some production while it investigates equipment failures in a new setback for Beijing’s high-speed rail ambitions following a July crash that killed 40 people.

Repeated delays blamed on equipment failures on the Beijing-Shanghai line that opened in July have embarrassed the communist government, which wants the fast-growing bullet train network to showcase China’s technological prowess.

A subsidiary of China North Locomotive and Rolling Stock Ltd. will suspend production of its CRH380BL trains made for that line while it investigates, the state-owned company said Wednesday in a statement issued through the Shanghai Stock Exchange.

It gave no details but the official Xinhua News Agency said trains “abnormally stopped” three times due to faulty sensor signals. The newspaper Shanghai Daily cited sources who said there were more than 40 breakdowns on the line since late July but gave no details and did not say how many involved equipment from the same producer.

The bullet train was the target of Chinese critics – even before the fatal July 23 collision near the southeastern city of Wenzhou – who said it was dangerously fast and too expensive for a poor country.

There was no indication the production halt was linked to the train crash. Authorities blamed that crash on a lightning strike that caused one train to stall and a sensor failure that allowed a second train to keep moving on the same track and slam into it.

The CNR subsidiary, CNR Changchun Railway Vehicles Co., produced 24 of the planned 96 trains to be used on the Beijing-Shanghai line, Xinhua said. The company statement said plans call for the company to produce 17 more CRH380BL trains this year.

The subsidiary has sent experts to examine train sensors provided by a foreign supplier, Xinhua said, citing its deputy general manager, Zhao Minghua.

“The breakdowns make us realize that we must conduct strict checks for suppliers’ products,” Zhao was quoted as saying.

Beijing has given signs it might scale back plans to expand the high-speed network to 8,000 miles (13,000 kilometers) of track by the end of this year and 10,000 miles (16,000 kilometers) by 2020. No details have been announced but the Ministry of Railways says it is spending less than planned this year.

The bullet train lost its biggest official booster when the former railway minister was dismissed in February amid a corruption investigation.

China has the world’s biggest train network, with 56,000 miles (91,000 kilometers) of passenger rail. Trains are overloaded with passengers and cargo, and critics say the money would be better spent expanding cheaper, slower routes.

Also Wednesday, the railway ministry announced further reductions in bullet train speeds following cuts in April.

The second tier of trains scheduled to run at 155 mph (250 kph) will slow to 125 mph (200 kph), the ministry said.

In April, the top speed of the fastest lines was reduced from 220 mph (350 kph) to 190 mph (300 kph) after Chinese railway researchers warned the planned speeds were dangerously fast and would waste energy.

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