China's railways: Railroaded

WITH an important Party meeting this fall and the eyes of the world momentarily focused on London, the Chinese Communist Party appears to be taking a moment to put its house in order. While the sensational murder trial of Gu Kailai, the wife of Bo Xilai, Chongqing’s deposed party secretary, has garnered the lion’s share of attention, another high-profile case may also be nearing conclusion. Last week officials announced that they had completed their investigation into allegations of corruption by a former railways minister, Liu Zhijun. Mr Liu was sacked February 2011, after investigators found evidence of widespread graft during his eight-year tenure at the head of his powerful ministry. Last week’s announcement is a sign that he will likely soon face trial for a range of offences, from rigging bids to build China’s high-speed rail network, to womanising, to “belief in feudal superstitions”.

The construction of high-speed rail lines, seen as a showpiece of China’s economic development and modernisation, has faced various embarrassments over the past few years: cost overruns; widespread rumours of contractors and officials lining their own pockets; and safety concerns, after a deadly collision last summer killed 35 people.