Costs of a cover up? What's at stake for China after high-speed train crash
The wreckage of a carriage is lifted from the accident scene of the crash caused by the earlier collision of two trains on July 24, 2011 in Wenzhou, Zhejiang Province of China. (Getty Images)
July 28th, 2011
01:30 PM ET

Costs of a cover up? What's at stake for China after high-speed train crash

Editor's Note: The following article comes from Worldcrunch, an innovative, new global news site that translates stories of note in foreign languages into English. This article was originally published in The Economic Observer a weekly Chinese-language newspaper.

It has been several days since one high-speed train rear-ended another in East China causing the death of at least 35 people, and injuring some 200 others.

Only three weeks earlier, the Beijing-Shanghai high-speed railway was boasting about being the longest and most quickly constructed in the world, as it was inaugurated with great fanfare. Yet numerous failures occurred within days of the operation, capped by the deadly accident that confirmed the Chinese public’s doubts about the security of the country’s high-speed rail, and sparking a crisis at the Chinese Ministry of Railways.

Up to now, both the state media and the Ministry of Railways claim that the accident was caused by lightning that struck and stalled the first train. Three senior officials were soon fired. Public opinion is outraged at the way the rail authority and other public officials have dealt with the incident.

It took 24 hours before the Ministry of Railways scheduled any sort of press conference to address the deadly July 23 incident that occurred near Wenzhou City. But when dozens of reporters arrived at the conference, only four designated media were allowed to enter the venue. There were more “leaders” present than reporters.

Moreover, in the conference, nothing about the accident was explained. All we learned is that Long Jing, the Secretary of the Shanghai Railway Bureau, was sacked by Sheng Guangzu, Minister of Railways, who has taken office only a few months ago.

It seems that everybody knows that Long Jing is just a scapegoat.

Read: Secrets and shortcomings of China's mammoth rare earth industry.

The Railways Ministry spokesman and other public officials were said to have left the venue via the rear door at the end of the conference when the reporters swarmed forward to ask questions. The reporters were immediately pushed away by security guards. Even today no list of the dead has been issued.

After the fatal incident occurred, it was the surviving passengers themselves, stuck in the train carriages, who transmitted the news through their cell phones. It was more than one hour before the government media responded to the incident and started releasing very limited information about it, while CCTV, a state television channel, released the news hours later when messages were already widespread on the Internet. Yet what CCTV gave us was just clichés. It did not address clearly how the crash happened, instead the “instructions of the leadership” were delivered fulsomely and none of their names were left out.

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On Sunday morning, less than 12 hours after the accident, the search and rescue team rashly announced that there was no more sign of survivors and started moving the fallen carriages. Large machinery was brought in to cut and crush the fallen carriages. Yet numerous passengers continued to be found still alive.

The most chilling question to imagine: What if the carriages being discarded still contained living passengers? In a 1998 crash in Germany the search and rescue lasted for 72 hours, while in China it is barely 12.

China has invested heavily in building a train network in this most populous region of the world. It will stretch to more than 12,000 kilometers of track by the end of 2012. When President Hu Jintao paid a visit to the US last January, China’s largest train manufacturer, CSR Corp, signed letters of intent for ventures with General Electric (GE), aiming to gain the business of supplying America’s high-speed rail investment plan unveiled by President Barack Obama early this year.

However, behind the apparently “leaping” development of high-speed rail, many serious problems are emerging. The Ministry of Railways has long been considered to be a closed and kingdom-like “Power Ministry”. It even has its own separate police and court system, as some media call it: “competitor and referee in one.”

In addition to scandalous corruption cases involving the former Minister of the Railways and a Deputy Chief Engineer in the past six months, a series of safety incidents of this much-hyped rail system have taken place and caused many serious questions. Just last month, Zhou Yimin, one of the former Deputy Chief Engineers, revealed to the press that due to Liu Zhijun, the former Minister currently under corruption investigation, when China bought the EMU CRH380 prototype vehicles from German’s Siemens, it was clearly stressed in the contract that “the maximum speed is 300 kilometers per hour”, while Liu wanted to create “the world’s fastest train” at the expense of its original safety design.

Read: Mercedes-Benz goes pedal to the metal in China.

Zhou Yimin further pointed out that both Japan and Germany, which have joint venture relations with the Chinese train manufacturers, have sharply criticised China’s claim of its capacity for running at 350km. They say that safety factors are being sacrificed. Although Japan and Germany have experimented safety speed tests of over 400 km/hr, “the experimental speed and the operating speed are two different things, yet China pretends that it has a break-through in its technology”, Zhou said. Widely circulated rumors on the Chinese internet also say some engineers working for the Ministry claim that they’ll never take the high-speed rail to avoid risking their own lives.

China’s high-speed rail construction and testing time were compressed in order to “lead the world” or to coincide with certain meaningful dates, for instance the inauguration of the most feted Beijing-Shanghai line to celebrate the Chinese Communist Party’s 90 years anniversary. Even the drivers’ training time has been compressed to just ten days.

Original material culled from E.O. and translated by Laura Lin. All rights reserved ©Worldcrunch.

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Topics: Asia • China • Economy

soundoff (16 Responses)
  1. j. von hettlingen

    With hindsight the responsibles should have known that security and quality are top priorities in public transport. Unfortunately harsh punishment doesn't deter many from being corrupt. Their greed is greater than their conscience.

    July 28, 2011 at 6:29 pm | Reply
  2. springs

    I am a chinese reader.As far as i konw,after it was announced that there are no more sign of survivors,only one little gir named xiangweiyi was rescued.not you say "Yet numerous passengers continued to be found still alive"
    I hope you can be responsible for the truth of news and all your readers.
    thanks.

    July 28, 2011 at 7:15 pm | Reply
    • marvin

      perfect~

      July 29, 2011 at 8:25 pm | Reply
  3. That'snotTrue:(

    They need to investigate it more throughly, stopping after only twelve hours. A sad day made sadder.

    July 28, 2011 at 7:35 pm | Reply
  4. Peter K.

    Yeah,it`s the truth as known that only a little girl was found alive after annoucing no life signature,but there `s a microblogger said that a little boy was found dead after the rescure action,without any injury.he was choked to death in the high-temperatured closing carriage.

    July 28, 2011 at 11:55 pm | Reply
  5. gerda borisova

    Everything can happen.It is the road. 3 monhts ago I traveled by the bullet train from Shanghai to Xiamen. It was perfect. I was standing for 2 hours, because the train was full.The vehicle went with 240 km/h speed and it was almost impossible to catch the moment when the train was going to stop. Such a smooth way it moved! And still the cause of this accident is not obvious:was it human factor or nature, or both.

    July 29, 2011 at 1:24 am | Reply
  6. g999

    Wow, really did some munching and crunching there.

    July 29, 2011 at 5:48 am | Reply
  7. Mike Smith

    CHINESE HUMAN RIGHTS ABUSE:

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zbDSOmTWU7U&w=640&h=360]

    July 29, 2011 at 4:47 pm | Reply
  8. Mike Smith

    CHINESE HUMAN RIGHTS ABUSE:

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_gohXIkN8bg&w=640&h=360]

    July 29, 2011 at 4:48 pm | Reply
    • cloudd

      I watched the Mike Smith 's recorded video with a laughter,
      wonder where in Nollihood did he filmed them.

      It was obvious those actors and actoress were not native chinese.

      November 20, 2011 at 10:28 am | Reply
  9. Mike Smith

    brutal CPC engaging in the barbaric practice of organ harvesting done in Chinese labour camps (Gulags)

    ORGAN HARVESTING IN CHINA'S LABOR CAMPS

    Magazine Breaks News on Organ Harvesting in China

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RvOu_3dlQ6M&w=640&h=360]

    July 29, 2011 at 4:48 pm | Reply
  10. Mike Smith

    CHINESE HUMAN RIGHTS ABUSE:

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XyRSyYMhW2E&w=640&h=360]

    July 29, 2011 at 4:49 pm | Reply
  11. Keicy Lu

    As a Chinese, I feel really desperate. Most of our people have no idea about the truth. Even some of us know it, we can do nothing, to help those who have been deeply harmed and have been deprived of their human rights in this disaster. Our government has tried all their best to avoid to say what they should say and escaped from what they should do, just as they did as usual. They covered the whole thing in no less than 24 hours, and promised to pay RMB500,000 to each death, hope this will ease the anger of the people who are far from the truth. The truth that a long term corruption in the core form of government and stupid arrogant confidence of blind development caused kinds of "accidents". I hate to condemn my country. We always give the government chances to make good changes, to take their responsibility to the people. But it hurt us deeply, again and again. I hope some foreign media may help give a justice and true information. At least, can drag more of us who are still be fooled.

    July 31, 2011 at 10:33 pm | Reply
  12. Tristan

    Prefect,

    August 2, 2011 at 1:30 pm | Reply

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