Wenzhou Train Burying Continues

A year has passed since the fatal high-speed train crash in Wenzhou. The Wall Street Journal reports that officials have forbidden journalists and other media from visiting the site of the crash:

Chinese citizens almost one year ago were outraged to see government officials pushing into a dirt pit the ruins of a wrecked rail car left from the deadly Wenzhou train crash, literally burying a visible reminder of one of the world’s worst high-speed rail accidents.

China’s Ministry of Railways has contacted media outlets and journalists, forbidding them from visiting the scene of the accident and is limiting its contacts to state-controlled media organizations, according to the federation. The ministry couldn’t be reached for comment on Friday.

As a broadcaster at state-run China Central Television said, “Can we drink a glass ofmilk without worrying? Can we live in a house that won’t collapse? Can we drive along a street in a big city without it caving in? Can we ride a train that arrives safely? And if there’s a big train accident, can we be sure that the engine won’t be buried? In short, can we have a basic sense of security necessary for people’s happiness?”

A repeat of last year’s outrage – prompted by images of the bullet trains that had collided, with cars dangling from the elevated tracks – wouldn’t be welcome. Already, China’s censors have shown their sensitivity around the anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown.

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) has also commented on Chinese government censorship, from Scoop:

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) is deeply frustrated by reports that China’s Central Propaganda Department has blocked all media reporting of the anniversary of 2011’s deadly high-speed train crash in Wenzhou, in China’s eastern Zhejiang Province.

On the evening of July 23, 2011, two high-speed bulletin trains collided in Wenzhou, killing 40 people and injuring at least 192 others. During the rescue, government officials quickly ordered the burial of the train the wreckage, drawing criticism from the public for their attempts to cover-up the incident.

Only state-owned media organisations, including Xinhua news agency and China Central Television, were allowed to attend a press conference to interview Railway Ministry officials, with other organisations blocked from attending. The Railway Ministry also contacted media organisations and pressured them to ask journalists to leave the scene of the accident. On July 30, 2011, the Beijing Propaganda Department issued an order to all local media forbidding independent reporting of the crash. At least two China Central Television media personnel were reportedly punished for criticising the rescue efforts in their programmes.

“Unfortunately, quite a number of newspapers have already ordered their staff to ignore the anniversary”, one local journalist said. “But, despite this, many journalists refuse to forget the disaster”.

While media outlets have been banned from reporting on the anniversary of the accident, the Global Times has reported on stories of what has happened since the accident:

Without this fatal day, 3-year-old Xiang Weiyi would be a healthy girl, growing under the protection and care of her parents. Now, everything has changed.

Dubbed the “miracle girl,” Xiang Weiyi was the last survivor of the tragedy to be pulled from the wreckage after being trapped inside a carriage for 21 hours. Both her parents died in the collision.

The investigation report, which was released five months after the deadly crash, blamed the cause on flaws in the trains’ operation control system and on an inadequate emergency response by railway authorities.

A total of 54 people were identified as being accountable for the crash and received disciplinary punishment. Liu Zhijun and Zhang Shuguang, the former railway minister and deputy chief engineer of the ministry respectively, were mainly said as being to blame and were placed under investigation last year for alleged “severe violation of discipline.” But the charges against them are not directly related to the train crash.

Despite the outrage from citizens over the accident, China is planning a railway spending boost, according to Bloomberg:

China’s railway infrastructure investment may double in the second half of this year from the first six months, aiding efforts to reverse a slowdown in the world’s second-biggest economy.

Full-year spending will be 448.3 billion yuan ($70.3 billion), according to a statement dated July 6 on the website of the National Development and Reform Commission’s Anhui branch. The document indicates a 9 percent increase from a previous plan of 411.3 billion yuan. Spending was 148.7 billion yuan in the first half.

China’s fixed-asset investment has already started to pick up and a jump in spending on railway construction would echo the expenditure on rail lines and bridges that was part of stimulus during the global financial crisis. A decline in foreign direct investment reported by the government today underscored the toll that Europe’s debt woes and austerity measures are taking on Asia’s largest economy.

China Railway Group Ltd. (601390) and China Railway Construction Corp., the nation’s two biggest listed rail builders, jumped in Hong Kong trading today.

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