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China high-speed train crash fuels safety concerns

14 Comments

China's media and public voiced anger Monday over a deadly train crash that caused a slump in railway stocks and cast doubt on the breakneck expansion of the country's high-speed network.

Thousands of Chinese turned to social media websites to express their anger over the handling of the disaster, with some saying they suspected the true scale of it was being covered up.

Authorities moved Sunday to allay concerns by sacking three senior railway officials and launching what the government called an "urgent review" of national rail safety.

But experts said the accident, which killed at least 36 people -- including two Americans and an Italian -- and was China's worst ever high-speed rail disaster, would fuel existing public unease.

"I think this has confirmed... a lot of the concerns over cost-cutting and corner-cutting that has been going on in the last few years," said Alistair Thornton, a senior analyst at research firm IHS Global Insight.

"This could have large ramifications that go up the political line."

Hundreds of millions of Chinese depend on the country's railways and any problems generate tremendous public interest in a country where, despite a three-decade economic boom, air travel remains beyond the means of most people.

At the train station in Wenzhou, the eastern city the trains were traveling to when the accident occurred late Saturday, many passengers remained unconvinced by government reassurances.

"I'm worried. Yesterday when I was booking my ticket I wondered whether to take a bus instead," Yu Dabao, a 47-year-old clothing industry worker, told AFP.

"You need to expand to develop, (but) it needs to be done in an orderly way, and I don't think it is. Before, there were no high-speed trains. It's too quick. This is not something that should happen."

A spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Beijing told AFP two Americans had been killed in the crash and consular officials had been in touch with their relatives.

An Italian woman aged about 22 was also killed, embassy officials said.

The parents of a two-year-old girl miraculously found alive after 21 hours in the wreckage both died, state media reported.

The accident also hit investor confidence. Shanghai-listed shares of China South Locomotive and Rolling Stock (CSR), which said it made the trains involved in the crash in partnership with two foreign companies, dived 8.9%.

"The railway ministry is investigating the reason of the accident and we will closely monitor the development," a CSR spokeswoman, who declined to be named or provide further comment, told AFP.

China's high-speed rail network only opened to passengers in 2007, but has grown at breakneck speed thanks to huge state funding and is already the largest in the world, with 8,358 kilometers of track at the end of last year.

But some experts say the speed of growth has exposed the system to problems, and in recent weeks delays and power outages have plagued a flagship new high-speed link between Beijing and Shanghai.

In the latest incident a power failure on the line in the eastern province of Anhui brought more than 20 trains to a three-hour standstill on Monday, a spokesman for the Shanghai Bureau of Railway told Xinhua.

The People's Daily, the influential Communist Party mouthpiece, carried a column Monday that indicated safety may have been compromised by the rush to build a world-leading system.

"The accident may have been avoided if sufficient attention was given to (recent problems)," said the writer, named Zhang Tie.

Popular microblogging sites buzzed with criticism of authorities, with some calling for the resignation of railways minister Sheng Guangzu and others urging travelers to steer clear of China's high-speed trains.

"The engineers who made the high-speed rail lines never travel on high-speed trains because they know there are security risks," wrote one.

Others accused authorities of "burying" evidence that could have helped determine the cause of the collision.

Emergency workers at the crash site were seen using heavy machinery to bury the wreckage, and Chinese authorities have been quoted as saying they did so to protect the country's technological secrets.

Concerns about official corruption also resurfaced, after China's state auditor said earlier this year that construction companies and individuals siphoned off 187 million yuan from the Beijing-Shanghai project in 2010.

In February, Beijing sacked the then railways minister Liu Zhijun for allegedly taking more than 800 million yuan ($124 million) in kickbacks linked to contracts for high-speed rail expansion.

"Maybe the silver lining of this will be it drives home that you cannot cut corners on safety," said Thornton.

© 2011 Agence France-Presse

©2021 GPlusMedia Inc.

14 Comments
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time for the people of china to use this incident for their own 'arab spring'.

-2 ( +2 / -4 )

Three top officials sacked and investigation is 'on' - have patience please. No media can't afford that.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

there is no investigation. they have all ready resumed normal passenger service on the line. the trains are being destroyed and buried. the media must press this, it is the only way the truth will be known.

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

"Emergency workers at the crash site were seen using heavy machinery to bury the wreckage, and Chinese authorities have been quoted as saying they did so to protect the country’s technological secrets"

" technological secrets"? This is just too much.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

If these Chinese techological secrets can't prevent this type of accident when the Japanese HS trains use an auto brakling system that kicks in at 7 km from another train on the same trracks, China can keep their prevcious "secrets".

4 ( +5 / -1 )

After China made so much of its supposed technological prowess, while buying and stealing from Japan, France, etc. the schadenfreude in the Japanese media is palpable. Can you imagine what will happen as China expands its nuclear power industry? Japan created a world record nuclear catastrophe here that just keeps coming due to official negligence. I'm afraid, however, that we haven't seen anything yet.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Who would want to steal already stolen technologies which seem to fail when improperly used? If the world wants to gain HSR technology, all they have to do is go to the actual source, which would be JR, SNCF, ICE, Siemens, Talgo, Alstrom, Kawasaki Heavy, et.al.

We figured that the Chinese HSR was due for accidents, but who would've guessed that it would be this quick and this spectacular? Let's also see how successful the CCP will be in censoring and controlling the information outflow on both the inetrnet and the media to contain the embarrassmet (although most of the damage seems already done)...

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Why are they burying the wreckage? Are there spies skulking in the area? Spy satelites zooming in? The reasons seem pretty transparent to me.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

I am also very much troubled with the sudden shift implying that it is 100% human error and that their technology works 100% under normal conditions and not doing any investigation whatsoever. They even re-opened the route after only 2 days after the accident trying to fortify their claim.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Emergency workers at the crash site were seen using heavy machinery to bury the wreckage, and Chinese authorities have been quoted as saying they did so to protect the country’s technological secrets.

Obviously the Chinese government thinks everybody including its own people are stupid.

This whole incident is a reflection of the big picture regarding China's "booming" industry and economy since joining in on the global market. This is what happens to safety, quality, and service if you don't start learning new things from the basics and fundamentals.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

The Chinese are burying the evidence of the crash and are clearly not interested in finding out what happened. This suggests to me that they know very well what went wrong, that they knew in advance that their technology was faulty, but that they just didn't / don't care, and aren't interested in fixing anything or learning from their mistakes.

Once the wreckage is buried all mention of the crash will be banned, web sites will be censored and it will be as if it never happened: until the next crash.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Apparently this is all over the Internet in China with many Chinese citizens angry at the government. There have been protests at the Chinese railway ministry and the buried wreckage has now been unearthed and has been transported to the next nearby train station (apparently for investigation). This is according to local Japanese morning news.

Things are apparently going well due to the amount of exposure the accident has generated. If only the same could work here in Japan...

0 ( +0 / -0 )

japanese friends before you point your finger eagerly at china, don't forget that your country still have many problems, fukushima anyone?

-3 ( +0 / -3 )

Once the wreckage is buried all mention of the crash will be banned, web sites will be censored and it will be as if it never happened: until the next crash.

That likely would have happened before Weibo (twitter) but it seems the government can't - or won't - kill the story completely. The Railway Ministry is taking the heat for this. Sure, they could just shut Weibo down, but that would seriously harm the government.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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