Power cut halts China's new high-speed train

A power cut brought the new $33 billion high-speed rail link between Beijing and Shanghai to a standstill Sunday, Chinese railway authorities said, just 10 days after its high-profile launch.

Nineteen trains were halted for about 90 minutes when thunderstorms and heavy winds brought down the power supply to a section of the line at around 6pm (1000 GMT), the Beijing railway bureau said.

Passengers said lights went out and carriages quickly overheated as air conditioning systems in the trains stopped operating.

"The carriage is dark and sweltering. We can't afford power failures on the high-speed train," wrote one blogger who called himself Brother Jiabo, apparently posting from the train.

"Isn't it too fragile? Is this the so-called high technology?" another user wrote on a social networking site in response to the railway authority's statement.

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao formally opened the new line, which halves the rail journey time between the two Chinese cities, on June 30, although it had been operating on a trial basis since mid-May.

He said the high-speed line - launched on the eve of celebrations to mark the 90th birthday of China's Communist Party - would be key to "improving the modern transport system... and satisfying people's travelling needs".

However, the huge investment in the new link has made the sector a hotbed for corruption, raising concerns over costs and safety.

China's state auditor in March said construction companies and individuals last year siphoned off 187 million yuan in funds meant for the Beijing-Shanghai link.

The revelation followed the February sacking of former railways minister Liu Zhijun, who allegedly took more than 800 million yuan in kickbacks over several years on contracts linked to China's high-speed network.

The official China Daily said Monday the power supply incident had raised fresh concerns over the safety of the landmark link, which opened a year ahead of schedule.

"Many micro-bloggers said they would not choose high-speed trains after this incident, as punctuality and the ability to operate regardless of the weather were meant to be its advantages," the paper said.

wf/cc/sls

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