What Is Wrong With Chinese Railways These Days?

The Chinese railways seem to have had an awful time as of late. The crash in Wenzhou was a man-made disaster that was as big a deal as Chernobyl. (Here’s more: there was a recent case where Train 1164 fell off the tracks. Now HSR and regular rail are all fragile.) The culprit: a serious of bad moves by current head of the railways authorities, Sheng Guangzu (盛光祖).

Let me just say that this guy is the wrong man for the wrong post, coming at the wrong time. A little list tells the tale…

  • Sheng Guangzu came into office pledging to “avoid high speed trains going on to the rails while they had problems”. He completely negated that with the Wenzhou crash.
  • Sheng Guangzu decided to get rid of Business Class seats on a number of new high speed trains (or to at least massively reduce them). You don’t do this in a country that has an overwhelming number of LVMH stores or is opening twenty more Apple Stores in the upcoming months. You don’t. HSR is for folks with the money. We have a great number of these people. Riders choose high-end seats for long-haul journey because they can relax. Our recent Business Class seats for the trip from Nanjing to Beijing were basically packed.
  • Sheng Guangzu decided to implement a “real ID” personal ticketing system, where identification was required for all HSR trips. He rubbed riders the wrong way by extending queues, and causing pain for foreigners with passports that had a letter in them (which was a big problem especially at the very beginning).
  • Sheng Guangzu decided to lower the speed for HSR lines, which basically rid China of its HSR forays. In doing so, he dragged the efficiency of the whole system — and of the whole country — down.
  • Sheng Guangzu decided to mix 300 km/h G trains with 250 km/h D trains on high speed railway routes. The result was the Wenzhou crash, which involved a train on a “mixed rail” HSR route.
  • Sheng Guangzu decided to enable Internet ticket sales — with a terrible interface and a hard-to-install certificate system for even Windows users. Want to pay via credit card? Good luck. Enjoy the hurdles…
  • Sheng Guangzu decided to lower the handling fee for ticket returns. This obviously kind of made the touts pretty happy…
  • Sheng Guangzu is thinking of adding the option of enabling PRC travellers to use their national ID card as a kind of “e-ticket”. Ergh… you do know the cops are watching where you’re going to or from, right? Police state 2.0 this is…

That’s not to say Sheng is all “boo, evil and devils” and stuff like that: he opened the Beijing-Shanghai HSR, gave us select lie-flat Business Class seats, and opened up the VIP lounges. You’ve got to give him credit for that. But apart from that, this is the Gil Amelio a la Apple for the Chinese railways world, and he’s got to know that there are only two ways out:

  1. Improve; or
  2. Disembark.

Boom. It’s a binary thing. Zero — or one. Off — or on. Get better — or go. Easy as that.

Steve Jobs nixed Gil Amelio. Someone down the line is going to do the same to the lost and confused Sheng, especially if he doesn’t get his act together.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>