Last week on Saturday, China had it’s first major high-speed railway accident. The accident occurred when a high-speed train in the eastern province of Zhejiang slammed into the rear of another train, sending four train cars plunging off a 49-foot bridge and derailing two others.
Here is a brief summary of events:
July 23, 2011 – at 8:38 p.m. local time near the city of Wenzhou, train D301 from Beijing collided with train D3115 traveling from the Zhejiang provincial capital of Hangzhou.
July 24, 2011 – On Sunday night, the Railways Ministry said it had dismissed the chief, deputy chief and Communist Party secretary at the Shanghai Railway Bureau, which administers the railways in much of eastern China.
- Images from the crash scene showed backhoes and other large equipment manipulating some of the wreckage, prompting some to question whether the government was mishandling or trying to bury evidence crucial for the investigation. The Railways Ministry spokesman was quoted by Chinese media saying that it was necessary to cover some of the debris to enable rescue equipment to reach parts of the site.
July 27, 2011 – Premier Wen Jiabao orders a “swift, open and transparent” investigation into Saturday’s fatal high-speed train collision.
July 28, 2011 – At least 39 people confirmed dead and 192 others injured. Police said the identities of all 39 dead in the accident have been confirmed through DNA tests.
- Design flaws in railway signal equipment led to Saturday’s fatal high-speed train collision near Wenzhou in Zhejiang Province, the Shanghai Railway Bureau said on Thursday. Having been struck by lightning, the signal system at Wenzhou South Railway Station failed to turn the green light to red, which caused the rear-end collision.
- The signal equipment was designed by the company Beijing National Railway Research and Design Institute of Signal and Communication. The company posted an apology on its website, expressing its condolences and regret to victims of the accident and their families.
In the aftermath of the accident, Western media outlets were quick to point out the failures of China’s high-speed railway. Surprisingly, even the local Chinese media became more critical of how the matter was handled and the officials involved. This was most likely led by strong public anger. Rumors on the internet alleged that railway officials were more concerned with cleaning up and resuming train services than saving lives. Issues such as the burying of certain train carriages, further fueled public suspicion of a cover-up and outrage.
There is no doubt that the whole incident has dealt a major blow to the image of China’s high-speed railways – an area Chinese officials were especially proud of. Before the accident, many raised concerns over the constant delays and malfunctions of the high-speed rail. Now, there are also valid concerns over safety.
Although it will be unlikely that this incident will stop or even slow down further expansion of the high-speed rail, it has definitely raised concerns. It is likely that most people will reconsider taking a flight on an airplane for their next trip. Such sentiment has been quickly reflected in the share prices of China’s railway companies that have fallen remarkable, while the share prices of airline companies were boosted.