China Train Wreck Raises Questions (Updated)

The death toll of the high-speed train crash in Wenzhou now stands at 35 with more than 200 people injured. As more information about the circumstances come to light, netizens and others in China are asking questions about the government’s response and culpability. From the New York Times:

Government officials responded switftly, with President Hu Jintao calling the rescue work a national priority. China’s railway minister, Sheng Guangzu, rushed to the scene to supervise operations. Mr. Sheng took control of the powerful ministry earlier this year after his predecessor and several associates were fired and investigated for corruption.

But China’s vocal online bloggers expressed anger at the priorities highlighted by the rescue.

Photos on the popular Weibo microblogging service showed backhoes burying the wrecked train near the site. Critics said the wreckage needed to be carefully examined for causes of the malfunction, but the railway ministry said that the trains contain valuable national technology and could not be left in the open in case it fell into the wrong hands.

Foreign companies maintain that some crucial technology was stolen from their imported trains. But more importantly to domestic audiences is the perception of a coverup. Initial reports of how the accident occurred are already being partly contradicted by reports in the official media.

The Railway Ministry issued a statement Saturday night that said the first train had been struck by lightning and lost power. It did not explain why the second train was not signaled to stop. In addition, new reports on Xinhua indicate that the first train had started to move by the time it was struck. The ministry has not explained the discrepency.


China Geeks has posted a collection of articles and translations
about reactions to the accident and the government’s response. For more on the accident, including a video of the aftermath, see this previous CDT post.

Update: Three senior railway officials have been dismissed after the accident, Al Jazeera reports:

The Chinese government relieved the head of the Shanghai railway bureau, his deputy and the bureau’s Communist Party chief of their responsibilities on Sunday, a day after the deadly crash, in which a high-speed train smashed into a stalled train and derailed.

The three will “also be subject to investigation”, China’s railways ministry said in a statement on its website.

“As leaders … they should take ultimate responsibility for the main cause of the accident,” railways ministry spokesman Wang Yongping told reporters.

The accident, which occurred on Saturday in eastern China, has raised questions about the safety of the country’s fast-growing rail network.

“There’s been a lot of talk in the country, a lot of suspicion in China about the bullet trains and in many ways this actually really confirms a lot of people’s suspicions about the safety and the technology and whether China is really ready to adopt this technology,” Al Jazeera’s Melissa Chan, reporting from the site of the accident in Wenzhou, said.

China Geeks has updated its comprehensive train crash post, and Shanghaiist is also posting regular updates.

July 24, 2011 6:22 AM
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Categories: Politics, Sci-Tech