The railway ministry’s tepid denial of an Economic Observer report that the ministry is having 29% of its infrastructure budget for the year cut suggests to this Bystander that planned new high-speed rail projects that have not yet started will not go ahead. The ministry said only that the publication’s report of a $200 million yuan cut in its 700 million yuan of planned spending was an inaccurate number.
Slowing the helter-skelter expansion of the network would fit with railways minister Sheng Guangzu’s publicly expressed view that priority should be given to new projects that either met a priority economic development need or filled a gap in the network where lines would benefit from being linked up. Sheng’s approach stands in contrast to that of his scandal-plagued predecessor, Liu Zhijun, who was overseeing a rapid build-out of the country’s high-speed network before his sacking in February. Of the 70 new projects in the offing for the year before Liu’s removal, 15 were high-speed lines.
There is no suggestion that railway projects underway would be halted or cut back, despite widespread concerns about the debt the rail system is taking on. However, Sheng has already proposed slowing high-speed trains’ speeds to lower operating costs. He now seems to be send new projects down the same track.