China to split rail ministry after scandals

BEIJING (AFP) - China will split its scandal-plagued railways ministry in two and bring its administrative functions under the control of the transport ministry, state media said on Sunday.

The plan is to "dismantle" the ministry, the official Xinhua news agency reported, citing a report on institutional reform to be submitted to the National People's Congress parliament meeting in Beijing later.

The ministry's commercial functions will be taken over by a new China Railway Corporation, it added. The railway system has been one of China's flagship development projects in recent years and the country now boasts the world's largest high-speed network.

But the expansion - which has cost hundreds of billions of dollars - has seen widespread allegations of corruption and former railways minister Liu Zhijun, who was sacked in 2011, is awaiting trial on graft charges.

In July 2011 a high-speed crash in the eastern city of Wenzhou killed at least 40 people, sparking a torrent of public criticism that authorities compromised safety in their rush to expand the network.

Investment this year is due to reach 650 billion yuan (S$130.5 billion), Xinhua reported in January, up 30 per cent on the 2012 budget, although actual rail investment in China usually turns out higher than the planned figure.

Beijing spends heavily on infrastructure to bolster economic growth, although senior leaders regularly speak of the need to rebalance the economy.

By the end of 2012, China had 98,000km of railway in operation, the second-longest network in the world, and the globe's biggest high-speed rail network with 9,356km of lines, officials have said.

It includes the world's longest high-speed rail route, a 2,298km line between Beijing and Guangzhou that whisks passengers from the capital to the southern commercial hub in just eight hours, compared with 22 previously, which opened in December.