December 12, 2019

High-speed Railway and Low-speed Reform: Institutional Gains and Losses Behind Technology

High-speed Railway and Low-speed Reform: Institutional Gains and Losses Behind Technology The wreckage caused by a train crash was beyond everyone’s imagination. The newly built high-speed railway quickly turned from a new card in China to a worrying troublemaker.

In the past seven years, under the leadership of former railway minister Liu Zhijun, China Railway has ushered in the largest construction boom in history. The world's first high-speed railway mileage has brought about core intellectual property rights technology that can make people proud. At the same time, it also brought a lot of corruption scandals, high debt risks and a series of operational failures. However, these did not allow the relevant departments to really reflect on China's high-speed rail construction until the July 23 after-hours crash.

In the preliminary investigations that have been disclosed, chaotic management and low-level technical errors are the culprits of the accident. However, behind the blood and anger, it is not just the railway system itself. It is the entire system that needs reflection. In the capital and technology-oriented modern arrogance, there is no support and trust from the broadest public, no matter how glorious it is. The results of modernization will become meaningless.

Technical gains and losses

In the two days after “7•23”, scientists in the railway field became the target of media chase. People were eager to know why Chinese railway technology, which was widely praised all over the world a month ago, would Has such a serious accident occurred? The train in question is an EMU at a speed of 200 kilometers per hour. Although it is different from the Beijing-Shanghai high-speed rail, it is also listed as a high-speed railway. It is not only a major core result of railway technology in recent years, but also the mother of 380 kilometers of high-speed rail technology innovation.

In the interviews of various media, from the academician-level scientists to the general engineering and technical personnel, most of the people’s first reactions were almost unbelievable. They could not believe that this kind of thing could happen. The interpretation of Wang Mengshu, an academician of the Chinese Academy of Engineering, is the most typical. His first judgment was due to the fatigue of the train driver, and he was confident in the safety protection system of the train. In the following days, the railway technical authority was also Therefore, many netizens questioned it.

However, in fact, prior to the rear-end accident, the railway experts contacted by the reporter had almost the same technical confidence in the Chinese high-speed rail. Even if the core figures of Liu Zhijun and Zhang Shuguang’s introduction of high-speed rail technology were jailed after the corruption scandal, this confidence has not been affected much.

From 2003 to 2011, Liu Zhijun served as the railway minister for 7 years. In an arbitrary style, he incurs numerous oppositions. After the corruption scandal, all kinds of disclosures and criticisms never stop in the media, but in his During this period of power administration, China replaced the most advanced core technologies at a relatively small cost, and on this basis, it achieved independent innovation. This point is still recognized by many people in the industry.

Compared to other industrial sectors in China, the "market-for-technology" strategy of China's railways is definitely a major advancement in more than 30 years of reform and opening up, such as the automobile industry, negotiations with foreign capital, and local governments' stimulation of GDP competition. The ultimate result is that China has paid for all markets, but it has so far failed to replace core technologies.

Although, over the past 30 years, China has become the world’s largest engineering construction country and consumer of industrial products, the status of negotiations and the psychological status of both parties have long been different from those of more than 30 years ago. However, the success of railway technology negotiations is very high. To a large extent, it depends precisely on the iron fist of the principal and the monopoly of the Ministry of Railways. Among the various debates on railway development and reform, the most embarrassing reality is that the Ministry of Railways’ semi-militarization and monopoly closure have been widely criticized, but China The breakthrough development of the railway in a very short period of time has precisely relied on this. After the glorious achievements in construction were publicized, a large-scale corruption scandal followed.

System advantages and disadvantages

In the course of the development of China's railways, the advantages of centralization are not only reflected in micro-issues such as technical negotiations, but also the entire high-speed railway R&D and production system. In 2008, the Ministry of Railways and the Ministry of Science and Technology jointly launched a joint action plan for the independent innovation of high-speed trains in China, with 3 billion investment. The immediate goal is to develop a train with a speed of 380 kilometers per hour for the Beijing-Shanghai high-speed rail within three years. Facts have proved that this kind of government-led and nationally invested scientific research system has greatly promoted the leap-forward progress of China's high-speed rail technology. It has rapidly upgraded from a high-speed rail technology-importing country before 2004 to a technology-exporting country today.

After the opening of the Beijing-Shanghai high-speed rail, the "Science and Technology Daily" published a long report, highly praising the action plan, saying that it "innovated the organizational model, tightly integrated centralization with the market, and made the nationwide system optimal." In the final summary of experience, Minister of Science and Technology Wan Gang also said that one of the important ones is to build a technological innovation system that is government-led, enterprise-based, market-oriented, and tightly integrated with production, research, and research, and integrates the nation’s superior scientific and technological resources. Together, it provided strong support for the independent innovation of high-speed railways.

Wang Shuguang is a professor at the Department of International Studies at Takushoku University in Japan. He has always done quite in-depth comparative studies on the high-speed rail between China and Japan. In his opinion, there is nothing wrong with the mechanism of combining this market with the national system. “This is a R&D and production system with Chinese characteristics. Not only Japan cannot match it, but it cannot be done in any other country.” Wang Shuguang said that after so many years of development, the Chinese people’s ability to learn, absorb, digest and create technology In fact, it is already very strong and it is not too much worse than the Japanese. However, he also believes that the most alarming aspect of this system is the monopoly resources of interest groups within the railway system.

Obviously, the most vigilant situation occurred without any suspense during the development of China's high-speed rail. Although it claims to have brought together dozens of domestic universities, research institutes, and hundreds of first-rate experts, the Ministry of Railways still occupies a dominant position in the distribution of core interests. Various scientific research institutes and enterprises in the railway department have received large amounts of scientific research funds and got key projects. After the “7•23” EMU rear-end accident occurred, the first Beijing-wide communication signal was pulled out. The Design Institute and the China Tonghao Group behind it are the most typical examples.

After the media listed the materials of listed high-speed rail companies, it caused public apprehension. Most of the directors and senior executives of listed companies were those of the railway system. Those high-powered scientists not only took on each one of them. Various kinds of national key issues, at the same time as independent directors of listed companies. In the face of a bloody accident, the government-led, R&D model of production, education, and research reveals its most ugly side.

If it is not this accident, it will be very difficult for the public to have the opportunity to see that the railway is not only closed to the operation and management system, but also to its scientific research system. A closed and inbreeding railway scientific research system has also gradually formed. The solution is the efficient work in the immediate future. In the long run, there will undoubtedly be obstacles to the efficiency of technological innovation and the loss of market competition.

To a certain extent, the path dependence of railway development is more like a universal reality in all fields of Chinese society today. Since the beginning of the 21st century, when the reforms have entered deep water, the combination of the market and the nationwide system has evolved into a political concept that is popular among the rulers. It is clear to the slightest visionary politicians that the trend of marketization is unstoppable. , but no power department will easily give away the power in the hands. What is even worse is that in the real reforms, those areas that have been marketized have not brought about an increase in people's well-being, such as roads, education, and housing.

To build up the construction and monopolize the power, the great development of the Chinese railway in the past 7 years seems to be an excellent example of both fish and bear share, but all these have disappeared with an accident and closed. The decision system cannot sustain long-term prosperity.

Human values

In the preliminary investigation results released by the “7•23” accident investigation team, the errors of dispatch and management personnel were one of the important reasons. In fact, this is also a universal law in the world's high-speed rail accidents. Scientific investigations have already shown that the proportion of accidents due to human factors in train accidents is close to 50%. Therefore, each high-speed rail advanced country has put a lot of effort into repeatedly conducting various kinds of high-intensity training for front-line technicians such as drivers and dispatchers.

Japan’s Shinkansen has set up a special human-machine system research institution and invested a lot of funds to study the role of people and blind spots in high-speed railway technology. These countries that have taken the first step in the scientific process have in-depth research on the respective values ​​and limitations of technology and the human brain, and the relationship between the two. For the just-started China, although it has been able to surpass Japan in terms of individual technological indicators such as speed, the research on the overall scientific system is obviously much worse.

“China’s high-speed rail is already world-class in the advanced level of hardware equipment such as vehicles and lines. However, in terms of software, such as personnel training and system thinking, it lags far behind the development of hardware, and it is still far behind Japan and Germany. “Wang Shuguang said that the high-speed railway is a systematic scientific operation management project. The demand for specialization is very high, but with professionalism, the entire Chinese society is still relatively lacking.

An employee of the railway system also told reporters that the Ministry of Railways had also conducted many trainings for the opening of the high-speed rail in the past few years, and issued various high-speed train training programs and plans. It looked very good, but it was implemented at the grass-roots level. Not very good. “The primary concern is not enough for the grass-roots level, and the financial and material resources are very inadequate. Each time the final assessment is mostly in form, the leaders just manage to report the figures.” He said that the progress of science and technology in the past few years was almost It is the same as a day, but the scientific quality of most of the grassroots railway workers has not been improved, and it has not been able to keep up with the pace of technological transformation.

In fact, the neglect of grass-roots construction and disregard for the interests of front-line employees are a long-standing deterrent of the railway system. This indifference is not only reflected in employee training, but also in the distribution of benefits. In 2008, the reporter first. During the interview with the in-depth railway system, the general salaries of front-line technicians were no more than 2,000 yuan. Even the highly technically demanding positions of dispatchers and drivers were only around 3,000 yuan.

After Liu Zhijun took office, he even put forward the slogan of building a high-speed railway at the expense of a generation of railways. In fact, in the construction of the railway, the beneficiaries are very obvious. The central government, local governments, listed companies, major banks consortia, railways The bureaucracy that holds decision-making power in the system, various research institutes, including the public as users, is also one of the beneficiaries. However, the most basic railway workers did not improve their lives because of the development of the railway.

As the most basic workers, the hardships of railroad workers' work are beyond the imagination of many outsiders, especially in the semi-militarized Chinese railway system. The railway transport carries a large number of political tasks, various national materials, and various celebrations. Temporary overtime is almost a common occurrence. In order to catch up with the traffic this year, the duration of the Beijing-Shanghai high-speed rail has been reduced from the original five years to two years and seven months. Although the minor faults have continued to cause numerous criticisms, they can be successfully completed. From the construction to the operation, it is already the result of countless front-line workers who have paid extra-intensity labor. Such a miracle is probably only possible in China.

In the modern leap forward led by capital and power, the interests of workers are one of the least valued. To improve the treatment, we always start with the top-level improvement of the bureaucratic group. Starting from the position of holding power, the reduction of welfare starts from the lowest-level, non-speaking front-line workers. This is almost the common fault of the state-owned monopoly groups. .

For the railway system, the high-speed railway has advanced technology and equipment, and it has a high degree of automation and scientific and rigorous joint control features, which can largely replace the "human" function. However, no matter how advanced technological equipments are, it is necessary for people to grasp their performance, correct operation and supervision. Just one week after the rear-end accident, a collective stoppage of train drivers occurred at the Changsha Railway Station to request an improvement in treatment. In fact, historically, the problems caused by the suspension of railway workers have always been the most destructive to the current social order. One.

A harmoniously operating system must be a system that can maintain basic fairness among members. If the distribution of interests among laborers, capitalists, management groups, and users lacks basic fairness, problems are inevitable, no matter how sophisticated The technical system cannot be avoided. This is the case with railways, and so is the state system. The long-term neglect of the interests of the laborers who are engaged in the most difficult work will ultimately pay the price.

After rebuilding the trust, several press conferences of the Ministry of Railways after the “7•23” accident made Wang Yongping, a spokesperson who was not well known to the public, become almost a household name. He apologized to the public. Almost every press conference must emphasize that "China's high-speed rail technology is advanced and it is qualified. We still have confidence." And constantly asked the reporter "Do you believe it?" His phrase "as far as you believe or not, I believe it anyway" was widely spread. However, no one believes him, and even CCTV is also in the news commentary program. It also says "we can't believe it or can't believe it."

In fact, when interviewed by a number of experts, privately talking about China's high-speed rail technology is still full of confidence. There was not much change before the accident, but at this time, none of them were willing to stand up and say such things. The public opinion wave caused by the rear-end accident, which is not particularly alarming from the casualties, greatly exceeds the imagination and even the fear of these scientific and technological elites.

However, such fierce criticism of public opinion is not without reason. As a more high-end modernization achievement, the high-speed railway has set its operation lines and pricing standards to a large extent, determining that its first service targets will be the growing middle class in Chinese cities, and the middle class of Chinese society in the middle of the gap. Through the new communication technologies such as the Internet, they have increasingly begun to grasp the right to speak. When a system full of monopolies and corruption hurts their right to survival, and they are filled with indifference and stupidity in the handling of the aftermath, that kind of fierce resistance will be Not surprising.

This system may well organize a breakthrough in science and technology, but it cannot organize a battle to deal with the crisis of social trust. Technical safety arguments can be easily achieved. However, the high-speed railways that bear corruption and death regain the trust of the people is not just a technical problem. “The railway is a special large system. There is no humanistic thinking, no systematic thinking, no scientific-technical-social thinking. Individual indicators may be advanced, but they do not fly!” said a professor at Southwest Jiaotong University in an interview with reporters. .

In today’s China, where material life is extremely abundant, the desire for technology, the pursuit of speed, and the worship of modernity increasingly exist only among interest groups, technology, and wealth elites. At the general public level, they care more about fairness. , rights, security, and more. Only technology may be able to help China achieve prosperity for the people, but it cannot cope with the increasingly complex social structural upheaval. Without a true people-centered spirit, the issue of rebuilding trust will not only turn for the better, but it will continue to deteriorate. This is not only a railway problem, but also a problem that the entire country must seriously face.

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