Beijing Seeks to Soothe Train Jitters

Three days after the deadly derailment of a high-speed train in Wenzhou, public anger is intensifying as people are not satisfied with the government’s response. From the Wall Street Journal:

Few new details emerged Monday on causes of the deadly collision, which sent four train cars plunging off a roughly 50-foot bridge and derailed two others. China’s Railways Ministry issued a public apology for the disaster, and Minister Sheng Guangzu announced a two-month safety campaign to step up maintenance and inspection work. Vice Premier Zhang Dejiang—the top official dispatched to the accident scene—vowed Sunday to conduct a “serious” and “honest” investigation and punish those responsible.

On Sina Weibo, the most popular of China’s Twitter-like microblogging services, the overwhelming majority of the roughly 65,000 people who had participated in an online poll as of Monday evening said they were “very dissatisfied” with the government’s response. “I eagerly await the U.S. Embassy asking for an explanation from the authorities—paying close attention!” wrote Weibo user jemmba. “Would it be possible to send the CIA or FBI over to investigate?” asked another user.

Also, from McClatchy Newspapers:

…After the accident Saturday, when one train rear-ended another, the government was forced to announce a full investigation and then on Tuesday to unveil a two-month, nationwide safety review of its railways.

Those measures did little to silence discontent, however. Some Chinese who are following the situation expressed doubts about the official explanation for the accident, that a freak lightning strike caused the lead train to stall, setting up a following train to plow into it. Others have asked: Even if that was the case, why wasn’t the second train signaled to stop?

Beyond the specifics of the crash Saturday night in the coastal province of Zhejiang, there are broader concerns about corruption and mismanagement that have come to plague the Chinese Railways Ministry. Its former head, Liu Zhijun, was removed from his job in February after accusations that he’d taken kickbacks of more than $122 million.

Suspicions that the bullet trains are at times unreliable were buttressed Tuesday when state media confirmed that more than 20 trains running on the brand-new Beijing to Shanghai route were delayed Monday because of power failures.

One cause of public anger was the government’s decision to crush and bury one of the engines, rather than carry out a full forensic investigation on it. Today, according to the Daily Yomiuri, the train was excavated and sent to a nearby station:

On Tuesday, a hydraulic excavator recovered the car, which will apparently be relocated to a nearby station.

According to state-run Xinhua News Agency, the Chinese State Council’s investigation committee has decided to take the carriages that had fallen from a viaduct in the crash to the Wenzhou West Station for investigation.

On Sunday, the day after the accident, Chinese authorities used heavy machinery to destroy part of the crushed carriage and buried the wreckage. This has been criticized as an attempt to destroy evidence.

Public outrage is being expressed on Sina Weibo, a microblog service, as many see the government fumbling its response. From the Wall Street Journal’s China Real Time blog:

Anger and skepticism that emerged quickly after Saturday’s collision of two bullet trains in eastern China—which killed at least 39 people dead and injured more than 192—has intensified as the government has drawn fire for not being forthcoming enough with information on the disaster. Much of the criticism played out on Sina Weibo, China’s most active Twitter-like microblogging site, where the accident on Tuesday remained the most discussed item for a third-straight day.

“In the eyes of the authorities, regular people will always be gullible three-year-old children,” Weibo user Yan Youming wrote Tuesday in one of thousands of new postings on the site that took the government to task for its opaque handling of the disaster.

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