A rail line being washed away by heavy rains is not that unusual. When it is a section of track on China’s trouble-plagued high-speed rail network just two months before the line is due to open, it makes headline news.
Some 300 meters of an embankment outside Qianjiang city in Hubei on the Hanyi High Speed Railway, a 291 kilometer route that connects Wuhan and Yichang, collapsed on Friday, state media report. An emergency task force has been drafted in to repair it (above). It is far from clear why rain caused the embankment to collapse, or even if the damage is more extensive than officially acknowledged. Reports talk of the rails sinking over several kilometers. Even before the collapse, there were reports that engineers were complaining about sloppy construction along stretches of the track, will soil being used instead of rocks for the rail bed. Test runs had been conducted on the line without known incident, however. Early reports of Friday’s collapse say that the track’s foundations were washed away, but early reports in such matters rarely turn out to tell the full story.
The whole high-speed network has been plagued with problems, which most fatally came to head in last July’s crash at Wenzhou, which killed 40. But there have been repeated allegations that the rush to build the world’s biggest high-speed rail network meant that compromises were made on quality.
This latest incident undercuts the new confidence of China’s railway officials that they have got past the worst of their troubles. “Speed and safety are closely connected, but high speed does not necessarily lead to safety risks,” the chief researcher with the China Academy of Railway Sciences, said in an interview with Xinhua published over the weekend under the untimely headline, “China’s high-speed rail on right track”.