All is not what it seems within China's High Speed Rail development.


bladerunner

Banned Idiot
Todays article by Olivia Chung in Asia Times, carrying the story about Chinas railways and the sacking of Liu Zhijun, the minister of Railways and has been in charge of Chinas HSR development for corrupt practices
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".........Liu, who served as a railway official for more than 20 years, headed the railway system, the world's largest, since 2003, championing in particular the development of high-speed trains. He is the most senior party official to be toppled by corruption.................."

This has revived a puzzling question . on my part , deriving from a article I read not so long ago. I have not been able to track down the full article that the writer quotes from to see if there are other aspects he has failed to mention
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. "The pace of expanding the system -- the Beijing-Shanghai line, completed after a mere 2.5 years, is expected tocommence operations this summer -- has led to questions over the quality and safety of what's being built. In particular, a little-known technical issue of the material used for the track foundations, apparently something called "fly ash." Here's what the South China Morning Post hadto say:

The problem lies in the use of high-quality fly ash, a fine powder chemically identical to volcanic ash, collected from the chimneys of coal-fired power plants. When mixed with cement and gravel, it can give the tracks' concrete base a lifespan of 100 years.

..........According to a study by the First Survey and Design Institute of China Railways in 2008, coal-fired power plants on the mainland could produce enough high-quality fly ash for the construction of 100 kilometres of high-speed railway tracks a year.

But more than 1,500 kilometres of track have been laid annually for the past five years.

This year 4,500 kilometres of track will be laid with the completion of the world's longest high-speed railway line, between Beijing and Shanghai. Fly ash required for that 1,318-kilometre line would be more than that produced by all the coal-fired power plants in the world...

...Professor Wang Lan , lead scientist at the Cement and New Building Materials Research Institute under the China Building Materials Academy, said that given poor quality control on the mainland, the use of low-quality fly ash, and other low-grade construction materials, was "almost inevitable" in high-speed railway construction.
Marco DiCapua of the Deptartment of Energy. He also writes: .................."

Is there any bright young engineers who can come up with any suggestions on how they are getting around this problem , other than what Prof Wang Lan is suggesting, that is to get the planned kilometeres of HSR built, you are going to have to go with lower quality specifications?, what would be a reasonable expectation of the life time of lower spec tracks. Its also rather disappointing that no numbers are given as to how much fly ash there is around even if it is a poorer grade or how much track could you expect to build with it and what the durability is etc etc.

Not only can this be a risk for serious accidents but how about recouping the cost of your initial outlay before the whole thing starts to break down. There are plenty of articles on the internet such as one by the ...


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which show that Chinas HSR is bleeding red ink all over the place. Futhermore that arent expected to show a profit before 2030, by which time these sub standard tracks that Prof Wang Lan is hinting about, could be giving problems long before the outlay is recouped. Well it certainly defeats the argument that " It would certainly cost much less to build the high-speed rail system (and other basic infrastructure) now, than, say, in 10 years’ time when the financial, social and political costs would be much higher than it is."
cheaper to build them now then later"



"... HSR Rail Not Profitable.
The not-so hidden cost of the high speed rail network
• Source: Global Times
• [09:12 January 07 2011]
• Comments
In the midst of a high-speed rail (HSR) construction boom, China has built the world's largest HSR network, with about 7,500 kilometers in service and more than 10,000 kilometers under construction as of November 2010. However, China's aggressive investment in HSR will lead to a great, if hidden, increase in the government's financial liabilities.

China's Ministry of Railways (MOR) is leading HSR construction. According to a report from the National Audit Office, the Ministry of Railways (MOR) was 1.3 trillion yuan ($195.50 billion) in debt in 2009, with 854.8 billion yuan ($128.21 billion) in short-term debt and 448.6 billion yuan ($67.33 billion) in long-term debt.
A report from China Minsheng Bank showed that the rapidly growing debt pushed up the interest that MOR had to pay, rising to 40 billion yuan ($6 billion) in 2009. China was expected to extend its HSR network to 16,000 kilometers by the end of 2010, at a cost of more than 2.6 trillion yuan ($390 billion), about the same cost as 1,300 Boeing 747 airliners.

Despite the government's generous funding, the HSR network won't turn a profit until 2030. What's more, no one can guarantee whether the government will benefit from the HSR sector afterwards. Opening in 2008, the Beijing-Tianjin Intercity Railway lost more than 700 million yuan ($105 million) in its first year of operation. This line transported 18.7 million passengers over that period, only 62.3 percent of the expected number.

Due to the huge investment in HSR, the MOR will be drowning in debt after 2014. The ministry relies heavily on its 50 billion yuan ($7.52 billion) annual budget for railways construction. However, HSR construction loans grew to 73.3 billion yuan ($11 billion) in 2009, highly exceeding the budget, and are expected to only continue to grow over the next few years.
The MOR is being run like an enterprise, in order to obtain easy access to financing while enjoying the preferential treatment as part of the government. An industry insider said that MOR has transferred its debts to a new asset management company, in effect offloading its financial liabilities. Meanwhile, as a part of government, MOR's debts will be covered by national revenue, which means that the money will end up coming out of the taxpayers' pockets.


The lightning pace of HSR construction will inevitably increase both the burdens on the residents and hurt economic development. What's worse, the HSR system doesn't look like it will be profitable in either the long or short run. It should be noted that the MOR is putting a lot of effort into construction to earn more revenue, rather than to improve service to serve the public interest. The ticket price hike at the end of last year illustrates that. It contradicts the primary purpose of an arm of the government - to serve the public."
 
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solarz

Brigadier
I don't know about fly ash, but the analysis seems overly simple:

(...)it can give the tracks' concrete base a lifespan of 100 years

(...)coal-fired power plants on the mainland could produce enough high-quality fly ash for the construction of 100 kilometres of high-speed railway tracks a year.
What exactly is meant by "high-quality"? Do they define it as the grade that gives a concrete base lifespan of 100 years?

What quality grade is needed for lifespans of 90 years? 80 years? 50 years? What is the production quantity of those grades? A little bit more, or exponentially more? Also, how difficult/expensive is it to repair/replace the base once its safe lifespan is reached? And what about usage? Surely the lifespan is tied to usage frequency, which is tied to passenger load? Are lesser-quality concrete used on less frequent routes?

See what I mean by simplistic? So many unknowns, how can you draw any conclusion from that?

As for the cost of HSR, I must repeat that national transportation is a vital investment for all aspects of the national economy. Infrastructure should not be built to make money by itself. It is built so that other people (the nation) can make money using it!
 

bladerunner

Banned Idiot
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  • #3
I don't know about fly ash, but the analysis seems overly simple:



What exactly is meant by "high-quality"? Do they define it as the grade that gives a concrete base lifespan of 100 years?

What quality grade is needed for lifespans of 90 years? 80 years? 50 years? What is the production quantity of those grades? A little bit more, or exponentially more? Also, how difficult/expensive is it to repair/replace the base once its safe lifespan is reached? And what about usage? Surely the lifespan is tied to usage frequency, which is tied to passenger load? Are lesser-quality concrete used on less frequent routes?

See what I mean by simplistic? So many unknowns, how can you draw any conclusion from that?

As for the cost of HSR, I must repeat that national transportation is a vital investment for all aspects of the national economy. Infrastructure should not be built to make money by itself. It is built so that other people (the nation) can make money using it!

The very same questions that you are asking entered my mind.

I asked an acquaintance of mine who is the owner of one of NZ. biggest infrasturcture building firms, over the last forty years his firm completed a lot of the concrete work on the motorway fly overs etc dam buiding . Keeping in mind while he isn't an engineer here is what he had to say unless i misunderstood him as im getting a bit dodery in my old age

He didnt think fly ash was used to gaurantee durability by X amount of years of the concrete per sey but an additive to concrete to slow down the cooling process. THe theory is if you can slow down the cooling process the stronger the concrete becomes and hence its durability and thus meet the design specs, so to some extent the actual pour ing/ technique/ management is quite important as well.
He said concrete that cools too fast looks like the inside of one of those chocolate bars that have those rice bubbly things in them with air pockets , if you know what hes referring to and thus inherently weak.

Just guessing if one was to use bad batches of concrete in the wrong area for various reasons , one might have to tear the thing down after a couple of yrs, ( Wasnt there quality concrete issues with Three Gorges Dam, and i vaguely recall some area in China complaining of poor quality concrete power poles that cracked very easily.
JUst to add to this overall complexity fly ash is scarce and is often pre ordered years in advance apparently. There are other demands placed upon the use of Fly ash as well as in the use of other materials apparently.

I agree with you HSR is great, I had more fun riding on the Maglev last year. I must have made half a doz return trips during one morning just for the fun of it
 
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kyanges

Junior Member
If they didn't make enough high quality fly ash domestically, I wonder if they simply imported the difference.
 

bladerunner

Banned Idiot
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If they didn't make enough high quality fly ash domestically, I wonder if they simply imported the difference.
Fly ash is a by product of coal burning power stations. It is the ash that is found near the top of the Chimmneys, a lot is trapped there by the filters and scrubbers that have been installed as a result of calls for i clearner air enviroment etc etc. I wouldnt be surprised if theres still a lot of coal burning power stations etc that have yet to do so. The ash that is found at the bottom of the chimney is heavier and is called down ash. I dont know if it has the required properties to be used in premium grade crocrete

Fly ash when mixed into croncrete also reduces the amount of cement required, which is probably good from a greenie point of view, because producing cement is supposedly energy intensive (greenhouse gas global warming arguement) Overall Fly ash has come to be regarded as a cheap low tech additive to improve the qualities of concrete, maybe there are more expensive alternatives , but no one has mentioned any yet.

AS for imports I dont know. The USA probably has the most coal fired power stations outside of China and India, and i remember years ago the enviromentalists in America complaining in the practice of burying unused fly ash in the ground, as it was contaminating the soil...... etc etc
 

Spartan95

Junior Member
Well since this topic came up, here's an article I came across regarding this case:

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Power struggle behind fall of China's rail minister
Peh Shing Huei
The Straits Times
Publication Date : 19-02-2011

The news last weekend that China's railways minister Liu Zhijun has been detained gave rise to one question among many Chinese: What took so long?

The 58-year-old's track record reads like, well, a train wreck: In his eight years as China's top railway official - his tenure was among the longest for a Cabinet minister in years - Liu presided over the country's worst rail accident in a decade, survived numerous allegations of corruption, and a high-profile scandal involving his brother, among others.

Hong Kong-based observer Willy Lam's comment after Liu was detained and sacked for what the official Xinhua news agency called "serious disciplinary violations" - a phrase which usually denotes corruption and abuse of power - echoed what many thought: "Everybody knows that he should have been fired long ago."

The fact that he survived as long as he did was down to one thing, say observers: His reported close ties to former president Jiang Zemin. His downfall, they say, is the result of a power struggle within the top ranks of the Communist Party.

Liu rose up the railway ranks under former minister Han Shuping, a known Jiang crony who was bureau chief of Shanghai railways in the late 1980s, when Jiang was the city's party boss.

He then presided over a paradoxical era in Chinese rail development. While the country was sending out ever-faster high-speed trains, earning him the nickname 'Leaping Liu', its people continued to struggle to obtain a ticket for their annual slow ride home during the Chinese New Year.

No matter how early one queued for tickets, they were always sold out. Scalpers, on the other hand, had plenty to spare.

When China Daily noted two years ago that it was a mystery how train tickets could not be bought at the ticket counter, accusing fingers pointed at Liu, with netizens labelling him China's "top scalper", a charge bolstered in 2006 when a bloody scandal involving his younger brother Liu Zhixiang stunned the nation.

The younger Liu had risen from train conductor to become director of central Wuhan's main station on the back of his brother's political connections.

Nicknamed 'Ticket Hegemon', he supplied train tickets to the local crime syndicates, whose members threatened anyone who dared challenge his monopoly.

But the law caught up with him when his hired assassin stabbed a businessman to death in front of his wife and child. He was arrested, and US$5 million in cash was found in his home.

The younger Liu was given a suspended death sentence, which was commuted to life in prison.

Talk swirled that the elder Liu managed to keep his brother from the gallows by offering a barter trade with Wuhan officials. In return for his brother's life, the planned high-speed train line between Beijing and Shenyang was switched to Wuhan and Guangzhou.

The Wuhan-Guangzhou line opened to much fanfare in late 2009, running at a top speed of 350kmh, the fastest in the world.

That was not the only scandal that Liu, who is into his third marriage, managed to deflect. In 2008, when snowstorms paralysed southern China's entire rail system during the Chinese New Year, calls for his head to roll reached a crescendo. But nothing happened.

Months later, when 72 people died in a train collision in Shandong province, the worst rail accident in the country since 1997, many expected him to be held responsible. Again, 'Leaping Liu' jumped clear of trouble.

Even when his peers voiced their disapproval, he escaped unscathed. In 2008, he received the second-highest number of rejection votes among National People's Congress delegates in their single-candidate election of Cabinet ministers. The top loser, then Education Minister Zhou Ji, was sacked last year.

"There was talk of rampant corruption in the industry and there were so many complaints about his performance," said analyst Bo Zhiyue from Singapore's East Asian Institute, who nonetheless noted that Liu was a proactive and energetic minister.

But, added Dr Bo, "Liu's opponents could not get their voices heard... He must have had very strong backers".

Such was Liu's political might that he was also able to stave off top-down directives to merge his ministry with the Ministry of Transport. This ensured he was able to keep his kingdom, a mega-ministry which employs nearly three million people, enjoys a multi-billion budget, and runs its own schools, hospitals and telecommunication services.

The ministry owns land around train stations and even has its own judicial system, which rules on cases related to railway matters. Its muscle comes from its own 72,000-strong police force.

Matters being played out above him, however, led to his downfall.

Said Dr Lam: "His downfall has to do with the power struggle between Hu Jintao and Jiang. There has been much talk that the Jiang camp has put a lot of pressure on Hu ahead of the 18th Party Congress next year. This is Hu's counter-attack."
 

delft

Brigadier
If the cooling of hardening concrete is the problem, this is much more important for massive structures like dams than for thin structure like railway beds. besides it is often possible to incorporate conduits for water cooling in the structures.
 

solarz

Brigadier
He then presided over a paradoxical era in Chinese rail development. While the country was sending out ever-faster high-speed trains, earning him the nickname 'Leaping Liu', its people continued to struggle to obtain a ticket for their annual slow ride home during the Chinese New Year.

No matter how early one queued for tickets, they were always sold out. Scalpers, on the other hand, had plenty to spare.
First of all, that is not paradoxical at all. It is a product of China's huge population and the Lunar New Year tradition.

Secondly, scalpers are not the fault of the railway ministry. In fact, there are numerous measures to combat them, such as requiring ID to buy tickets: 1 ID = 1 ticket. Really, I wonder how out of date that comment is, having spent Lunar New Year in China in 2009, and having had to travel by train to my wife's hometown, you couldn't get a ticket from a scalper even if you wanted to.
 

bladerunner

Banned Idiot
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First of all, that is not paradoxical at all. It is a product of China's huge population and the Lunar New Year tradition.
Last year I told my travel agent that I was contemplating casually buying a long train trip to what ever destination that interested me at the time while in China, just for the train ride. (like taking a train ride from Shanghai to wherever, and then coming back on the same day .She suggested that I was taking a risk , and went on to recount stories of people not being able to get a ticket for the return trip on the day they wanted, and it wasnt the busy travelling season.

As for major maintence work? Just imagine how brassed off the people might be after expecting the track to last a 100yrs?, only to see sections of it shut down for longish periods barely 5- 10-15-20yrs? into its expected lifespan.and youve just gotten use to have trains coming along every 5-10mins and whisking you hundreds if not 1000kms away
 
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bladerunner

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Well since this topic came up, here's an article I came across regarding this case:

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Well they'e have certainly taken the art of repaying "favours" to another level LOL

"
Talk swirled that the elder Liu managed to keep his brother from the gallows by offering a barter trade with Wuhan officials. In return for his brother's life, the planned high-speed train line between Beijing and Shenyang was switched to Wuhan and Guangzhou."
Perhaps Professors Wang Lan original complaint about poor production processes was directed at Liu?
 

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