With the new high-speed train, one can travel from Beijing to Shanghai in less than 5 hours. However, the question becomes: can everyone afford to ride on the train from such a megainvestment project?
From The Wall Street Journal:
A high-speed train from Beijing is scheduled to glide into Shanghai’s Hongqiao railway station on Thursday after its inaugural run, an event meant to showcase China’s technological prowess but one that lately has become part of a national debate about the pitfalls of megainvestment projects.
Detractors focus on corruption and safety problems that have lately tarnished the project’s image. Pricey tickets, they say, underscore China’s already huge rich-poor gap¡ªand doom the trains to run half-empty, straining the national budget for years to come. These worries, as well as the environmental impact of tearing up countryside for new rail tracks, have already forced the Railways Ministry to reduce the speed of the trains and halt work on some lines.
Problems surfaced. Suppliers complain that the Railways Ministry hired unqualified construction workers and purchased substandard cement. Contractors cut corners to meet tight deadlines. “Over the past two years, the Railways Ministry has been pressing us really hard on orders,” said a railway contractor in Tianjin, who only gave his family name, Yao. “It leaves us much less production time compared with previously.”
The project’s flaws became painfully clear in February, when Liu Zhijun, former railways minister, was fired amid allegations that he embezzled around $30 million.
Another public concern for the high-speed train is the pricey tickets. The cheapest ticket on the 300-kilometer-an-hour Beijing-Shanghai train costs 555 yuan ($86), or about 9% of monthly disposable per capita income for urbanites.
“The big question is whether we can get meaningful returns over the next 10 or 15 years [from the rail project] so it can provide positive momentum for the economy and increase the ability to pay back loans,” says Peking University economist Huang Yiping.