Railway cuts bullet trains from schedule

Updated: 2011-07-23 10:36

By Tan Zongyang (China Daily)

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BEIJING - China's railway authority is about to suspend two pairs of bullet trains on part of the Beijing-Shanghai high-speed railway because of their low occupancy rate.

Two shuttle trains to Jinan, in Shandong province, one from Beijing, the other from Tianjin, will be "temporarily halted" starting Monday, according to a notice on the Tianjin Railway Station's website on Wednesday.

This is the first time railway authorities have announced a reduction in service since the flagship 1,318-kilometer Beijing-Shanghai railway, the world's longest fast track, opened late last month.

"The adjustment is aimed at reducing the unnecessary waste of resources", an official at the publicity department at Beijing railway bureau, who declined to give her name, told China Daily on Friday.

She said that the seat occupancy rate of the two trains is less than 80 percent, lower than the railway authority's required rate.

"The cancellation is understandable, just like bus routes with very few passengers should be cut to meet market demand," she said.

By 5 pm on Friday, the railway authority's ticket service portal showed that the G181 bullet train, which travels from Beijing to Jinan, had more than 720 standard seats unsold. The train has more than 1,000 seats.

Xu Guodong, a Jinan businessman who took train to Beijing once a week, said that because there were so few passengers, he sometimes felt like he had chartered the train.

"Usually, there are only five or six people in the first-class car, so I can sit anywhere I like," said Xu, who always purchased first-class seats.

Xu said he was not worried about the reduced service because there are many alternate trains from Jinan to Beijing that can provide enough seats for passengers.

Zhao Jian, a transport expert at Beijing Jiaotong University, said the reduced service has added to his concerns that China's landmark high-speed railway might have profitability problems because of lower-than-expected passenger rates.

"Insufficient passengers is a common problem seen on many of the country's new passenger lines," he said, warning that the high-speed railway network may suffer huge losses in operation.

According to the Ministry of Railways, 90 pairs of trains travel along the Beijing-Shanghai high-speed line every day.

Statistics show that an average of 165,000 passengers a day used the new railway in its first two weeks of operation since July 1, while 80,000 continued to ride on the slower but less expensive old railway.

However, ridership on the high-speed line was greatly affected after the service had a string of malfunctions in the past two weeks. The glitches, which caused delays and raised safety concerns, drove some passengers back to flying between the two municipalities - boosting the air ticket prices.

During an online chat last week, Wang Yongping, spokesman for Ministry of Railways, apologized to passengers for the inconvenience caused by the train problems.

Zhao Ruixue contributed to the story.



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