This August will mark 10 years since the opening of the Beijing-Tianjin intercity train – China’s first dedicated high-speed rail line.
Since then things have moved on at pace. The country has laid more than 25,000 kilometres of high-speed track and some 2,500 pairs of bullet trains now run every day (see WiC392).
The advent of high-speed rail has been transformative. But more than that, it is also a symbol of many of the country’s achievements and challenges.
A couple of videos posted on social media recently highlight the central role high speed rail now plays in Chinese society and politics. The first involves a woman named Luo Haili who held up a high-speed train from Hefei in Anhui province because her husband hadn’t boarded. A now viral clip, filmed by another passenger, shows Luo, a primary school teacher, refusing to move out of a doorway so the train could depart.
The conductor tries reasoning with her and a station guard threatens her with detention, but she refuses to budge. Attempts to remove her forcibly fail, and as she is wrestled off the train and onto the ground she sticks her foot back into the door so it cannot close.
Many viewing the video later were shocked at Luo’s “selfish” behaviour, which meant other passengers were delayed.
Others criticised the police for not doing more to make Luo comply with their orders.
(A controversial article forwarded by the People’s Daily garnered opprobrium, however, for saying the police had been rendered toothless by a public outcry over a previous case at a station where an angry passenger died.)
Luo was later fined Rmb2,000 ($318) for “obstructing the operation of a train service” and suspended from her job. Much to the surprise of many people, however she and her husband were allowed to travel on the very train they had delayed for three minutes.
With some 390 million people about to embark on train journeys this month to be with their families over Chinese New Year, the People’s Daily reminded passengers that it is their duty to “maintain a safe, orderly, civilised and peaceful travel environment”.
“Just as a train must stay on its tracks, social order must follow the rules,” it said.
Yet if the Hefei video illustrated the difficulty of getting some people to comply with the working of a modern, super-punctual high-speed rail network – 98% of its trains leave on time – the second video shows how slick China is at building the said network.
Shot in Fujian province it shows 1,500 workers completing a railway junction outside the city of Longyan in just under nine hours.
Published by Xinhua and posted on social media all over the world, videos like these have become an invaluable business card for Chinese construction companies as they seek more overseas contracts. It even prompted the Daily Mail to run an article with the headline “Now that’s China speed” and to state “Chinese workers have demonstrated their incredible efficiency yet again.” (One reader from California commented beneath the article that it had taken his state’s workers over a year to fix a one-mile stretch of potholes.)
Last week Russia’s state news agency Interfax confirmed that the China Railway Constriction Corp (CRCC). had been chosen to build three new metro stations in Moscow.
The Russian capital’s metro system is famed for its ornate, palace-like stations, designed in the thirties to illustrate the Soviet Union’s superiority over the West. The CRCC’s involvement in the network’s expansion marks the first time a foreign company has been allowed to bid.
“The work will be complete by December 2019,” Moscow’s vice mayor Marat Khusnullin said.
Yet while CRCC is celebrating this historic coup, a subsidiary of China’s other large state-owned rail construction company, China Railway Engineering Corp, is in the news for forging documents to win a Rmb750 million building project in Nanjing.
This story also went viral online – though this time generating negative comments about the arrogant management culture at many state-owned firms. The alleged fraud involved the misappropriation and use of local government chops to stamp documents.
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