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China Orders Halt to New Rail Projects as Wreck Probe Continues


China has ordered a halt to new railway projects and further speed reductions on existing bullet trains, as it struggles to reassure the Chinese public in the aftermath of a deadly wreck last month.

The official Xinhua news agency announced the moves Wednesday, along with design and quality reviews triggered by the July 23 crash of two high speed trains in eastern China that killed 40 people. The collision, which injured more than 200 others, spawned rare, heated government criticism in official Chinese media, the firing of several senior railway officials and public apologies from the country's most senior leaders.

Xinhua did not provide details of the slowdowns, which were the second set of speed cuts ordered by the Chinese cabinet, the State Council, since the wreck. But other state media quote railway minister Sheng Guangzu as saying trains designed to run at 350 kilometers per hour will slow to 300 kph, while those built for 250 kph will be slowed to 200 kph.

The July crash, which authorities blame on signal failures, was the worst rail accident in China since 2008.

China launched service on its showcase Beijing-to-Shanghai bullet train June 30, with great fanfare and promises to cover the 1,300-kilometer line in less than five hours.

However, since the July 23 wreck, official media have referred to "shattered confidence" among the Chinese rail-traveling public. The China Daily newspaper last month cited an online poll in which only 15 percent of 250,000 respondents said they thought the nation's railways are safe.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.

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