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Monday, January 9, 2012

Chinese railways lack IT infrastructure, not high speeds

China is finding that in the race for "super trains" there are many needs outside of aerodynamics and horsepower.  Namely, an IT partner that can determine the operational requirements, analyze them effectively, and provide a secure hosting platform.  Dark Star has a direct answer to each of those needs.


From TheEconomist.com

China’s railways

Less express

What the country needs is a more efficient network, not faster trains

But don’t try to buy a ticket online
CHINA’S love affair with fast trains is gathering steam again. Undaunted by horrendous accidents and massive cost overruns, officials are planning further expansion of the country’s high-speed rail network. A new service has begun between the southern cities of Guangzhou and Shenzhen, nearly halving the travel time to 35 minutes. With trains capable of travelling up to 380kph (236mph), the service will eventually be extended to nearby Hong Kong. For those craving even faster speeds, CSR Corp, China’s biggest trainmaker, has unveiled a supertrain (pictured above) said to be inspired by the shape of an ancient Chinese sword. It should slice through the air at 500kph.
Supertrains are sexy. Politicians love to show them off. But to allow more Chinese people to get where they want to go at a reasonable price, then three less glamorous types of investment would yield better returns. China Rail, the state near-monopoly, is deficient in all three.
The first is safety. Standards are patchy. In July a high-speed train crashed near Wenzhou, leaving 40 dead. Officials attempted a cover-up, prompting a wave of popular outrage on the Chinese internet; even the state-controlled media wailed that development had become “stained with blood”. The mood has lifted a little following the recent publication of a surprisingly harsh official report that finds fault with both the design of the railway and its management. It calls for more than 50 officials to be punished. Deeper reforms are required, however.
The second neglected area is information technology. Chaos broke out this week when a new system for online ticket sales at China Rail became overwhelmed. The demand for tickets was completely predictable, as 2.8 billion rail journeys are expected during the Chinese New Year holidays later this month. But instead of enjoying a convenient alternative to queuing all night for paper tickets, as they have done in the past, customers were frustrated by hours wasted online trying to find out if they could actually get the tickets they thought they had paid for.
The third area is pricing. Fares have historically been tightly regulated and heavily subsidised. This began at a time when China Rail had a de facto monopoly not merely of rail but of inland transport in China. In those days, tight regulation was justified. But no longer, says a new paper by the World Bank. China’s roads are much better, and railways must compete with booming airlines, too.
Average incomes in China have risen tenfold since the current pricing and subsidy regime was put in place in 1982. Liberalising fares would allow services to be tailored to meet customers’ needs. In Europe, for example, rail operators offer a wide range of fares and discounts for those who book in advance, travel at odd times or bundle the fare with a packaged holiday—much as airlines have long done.
Poverty too could be better addressed by targeted subsidies, off-peak discounts and other measures. The evidence from rail liberalisation in North America and Europe suggests that such reforms could actually reduce fares. With a free hand, railways tend to squeeze more trips out of their trains, provide better service and make more money.
In short, China needs to rethink how it spends money on rail. That may happen. Although it did not receive the same attention as the supertrain, Sheng Guangzu, the railway minister, was recently quoted by China Daily, an official organ, as saying that there are now plans to slash the investment budget for railways to 400 billion yuan ($64 billion) in 2012—some 44% below the level in 2010. If that makes for a better rail network, then many Chinese will agree that speed is not everything.


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