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Ministry Fights Back over 'Rail Chaos' Slur

The Ministry of Railways yesterday responded to criticism from Guo Xiling, a member of the Guangzhou committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, over the improper handling of railways during the snow disaster that hit southern China last month.

Wang Yongping, a spokesman for the ministry, said in an interview on the website of the People's Daily that "all of Guo's accusations are groundless".

Guo had said two government agencies should be blamed for the chaos at Guangzhou railway stations, the city's New Express reported on Monday.

"One is the weather forecasting authority, which failed to forecast the severe weather situation completely. But the Ministry of Railways had made a bigger mistake," Guo said on Sunday during a discussion.

He said the ministry had continued to sell train tickets even when power supply to Hengyang and Zhuzhou, two railway hubs in Hunan Province, had stopped.

Later, the ministry tried to use diesel trains to replace the electric ones, Guo had said. The ministry resorted to inefficiently getting diesel locomotives from as far as the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region in the northwest, he said.

In response, Wang said yesterday that all the 557 diesel locomotives dispatched were from the Guangdong area, and the neighboring Nanning and Wuhan railway bureaus.

Guo also said on Sunday that when migrant workers had given up hope of returning home after failing to get on trains disrupted by the snow, the Ministry of Railways announced transportation would resume soon - leading to the workers rushing to the railway stations but ending up trapped in the freezing square.

Wang denied this by saying all tickets for trains leaving Guangzhou on the damaged Beijing-Guangzhou railway before February 3 had been sold out before the disaster hit the area around January 25. The ministry had not kept selling tickets irresponsibly, he added.

Liu Jingjun, a deputy of the Guangzhou People's Congress and a chief of Guangzhou traffic police, echoed Guo's point.

"The railway authorities claimed on January 26 that the tickets were sold out. We all agree that no ticket could be available under the circumstances. But we learned that they sold nearly 170,00 tickets on February 1, 140,000 tickets on February 2 and more than 40,000 on February 3," Liu said.

He suggested the local governments start working on an emergency plan to cope with similar problems.

(China Daily February 20, 2008)

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