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China to abolish rail ministry after scandals

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

China will split its railways ministry in two and switch control of its administrative functions to the transport ministry, a top official said Sunday, in an effective abolition of the scandal-plagued body.

"The railways ministry will no longer be maintained," Ma Kai, secretary general of the State Council, China's cabinet, was to tell the National People's Congress parliament meeting in Beijing, according to a copy of his speech.

The body's commercial functions will be taken over by a new China Railway Corporation, it said, adding that "there is a need to separate the administrative and the commercial sides of the railways".

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 a series of scandals and widespread allegations of corruption, with former railways minister Liu Zhijun, who was sacked in 2011, now 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 ($105 billion), Xinhua reported in January, up 30 percent 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 98,000 kilometres (61,000 miles) of railway in operation, the second-longest network in the world, and the globe's biggest high-speed rail network with 9,356 kilometres of lines, officials have said.

It includes the world's longest high-speed rail route, a 2,298-kilometre 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.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130309/china-abolish-rail-ministry-after-scandals