Power Failure, Human Error Blamed for Shanghai Metro Crash

Signal failure, initially blamed for Tuesday’s Shanghai Metro crash, has now been replaced as prime suspect by power failure (which took down the signals) and poor execution of procedures for subsequently guiding the trains by telephone. From China Real Time Report:

Shanghai Shentong Metro Group Co., the government-owned operator of the 11-line system, said an investigation had determined “relevant operators” failed to meet strict standards while guiding trains manually after “a sudden blackout caused the suspension of operating signals.” […]

Authorities didn’t provide further specifics regarding what it said was human error in failing to follow procedures, nor explain why a system like signaling that is supposed to be fail-safe was vulnerable to a power interruption. Human error was also cited as a contributing cause of a deadly high-speed railway accident in the city of Wenzhou about two months ago that has led to wide public doubts about China’s high-speed rail system ….

The state-run Xinhua news agency says 95 people remain hospitalized while 189 others were so far discharged. That figure adds up to 284, according to the state-run China Daily, more than a dozen more than authorities reported the night of the accident … Authorities say head trauma and broken bones are among the more serious injuries. No deaths have been reported.

An expert quoted by Shanghai Daily suggested that staff had been left behind by the pace of the network’s growth.

Luo Yanyun, a professor at Tongji University’s Urban Mass Transit Railway Research Institute, said yesterday: “Using the telephones for dispatch is usually the last choice the Metro operator would make once the signals are cut.”

Luo said the method depended on human control and thus was “of relative poor safety. It will affect normal operation but the accident should have been avoided.”

Luo added: “I have been calling for the government to set up a whole safety analysis and evaluation system on the subways.” […]

Luo said the lack of good management and the poor abilities of Metro staff were concerns with the city boasting it would have the world’s longest Metro track, more than 500 kilometers, by next year.

“The focus still lies on construction now,” said Luo. “The operation management lags behind.”

While Shanghai Metro’s apologies on Sina Weibo lacked a certain elegance, its president’s Japanese-style contrition scored relatively highly. From Evan Osnos at The New Yorker:

… [O]fficial China has very little affinity for the public-bow-of-abject-apology, which Japanese corporate executives have raised to a form of public theatre. So it was a surprise on Tuesday when the president of the Shanghai Metro, Yu Guangyao, began a press conference about China’s latest train crash with a nicely executed bend in the fifteen-degree range. “I’d like to offer deep apologies to the city’s residents and passengers for the commuting inconvenience that this has caused them,” he said. “I’d also like to convey my deep solicitude to injured passengers.” […]

Bowing to the public as an apology may have its benefits. A few years ago, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao made the rare gesture of bowing before a train station full of stranded passengers in Hunan, after heavy snowfall paralyzed the transit system. “I cannot find enough words to express my condolence,” Wen said, winding up to the thirty-degree option. As Li Yuan of the Wall Street Journal points out, early reviews of the Shanghai bow are grudgingly positive. “Learning to bow to apologize is at least a sign of progress,” Sina Weibo user Jiajianvwudeatongmu wrote Tuesday. “When have you seen any government official or leader bow?”

September 29, 2011 12:01 AM
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