Chinese train collision leaves 35 dead

July 24, 2011


A general view shows the wreckage of a high-speed train which derailed between the cities of Hangzhou and Wenzhou, in eastern China’s Zhejiang province on July 23, 2011. Emergency workers battled to rescue survivors from the mangled wreckage of the two Chinese bullet trains involved in a high-speed collision which left 35 dead and over 200 injured, reports said. – AFP Photo

WENZHOU: The death toll in a collision between two high-speed trains in eastern China rose to 35 on Sunday, state media said, as the government ordered an “urgent” overhaul of rail safety nationwide.

Another 210 people were injured when a train lost power after being struck by lightning and was hit by a high-speed train, the official Xinhua news agency said, adding two foreigners were among the dead.

Four carriages plunged off a viaduct and another two were derailed, Xinhua said, in a disaster likely to raise fresh questions over China’s rapid rail expansion.

Hours after the accident, which occurred on the outskirts of the city of Wenzhou in Zhejiang province, the government launched an “urgent overhaul” of rail safety nationwide, Xinhua said.

China has ploughed huge sums of money into the rapid expansion of its high-speed rail network, which reached 8,358 kilometres (5,200 miles) at the end of 2010, but there have been fears that the rapid roll-out could compromise safety.

A new $33 billion high-speed track linking Beijing and Shanghai opened to passengers on June 30 -- a year ahead of schedule and a day before celebrations to mark the 90th birthday of China’s Communist party.

The fast link can carry 80 million passengers a year -- double the current capacity on the 1,318-kilometre route -- and halves the rail journey time between the country’s two main cities.

Xinhua said Railways Minister Sheng Guangzu had ordered an “in-depth investigation” into the cause of Saturday’s accident, which happened at around 8:27 pm (1227 GMT).

Passengers reported violent shaking and said many survivors were initially trapped in the wreckage, although reports said the more than 1,400 people on board had now all been evacuated.

“The train suddenly shook violently, casting luggage all around. Passengers cried for help but no crew responded,” survivor Liu Hongtaohe, told China Central Television (CCTV).

“The train was supposed to stop for one minute, but actually stayed for 25 minutes,” another passenger surnamed Zhou told Xinhua. “After it moved, we heard a ‘bang’ and it felt like an earthquake.”Another, unnamed survivor, aged 40, told the news agency he had been trapped in a carriage with more than 60 other passengers after the crash.

“We were trapped in the coach for more than one hour before five of us broke the window and crawled out,” he said. The five rescued another two passengers, but one died shortly afterwards, the man said.

It was not immediately clear how fast the second train was travelling when the collision occurred. Trains on that stretch of line are designed to go at a speed of 200 kilometres an hour.

The train was travelling from Hangzhou, capital of Zhejiang province, and Xinhua said trains to and from that city had now been suspended, citing unnamed sources.

The latest rail accident was the worst since April 2008, when 72 people were killed and more than 400 injured when one train derailed and another collided with it in the eastern province of Shandong.

That accident raised transport safety concerns for the Beijing Olympics just months later.

China’s high-speed rail network is expected to exceed 13,000 kilometres by 2012 and 16,000 kilometres by 2020, and the huge investments have spurred allegations of corruption and raised concerns over costs.

China’s state auditor has said construction companies and individuals last year siphoned off 187 million yuan ($29 million) from the Beijing-Shanghai project.

The revelation followed the February sacking of former railways minister Liu Zhijun, who allegedly took more than 800 million yuan in kickbacks over several years on contracts linked to China’s high-speed network.

The Beijing-Shanghai line has suffered delays caused by power outages, sparking a slew of criticism and raising fresh concerns over safety of the landmark link.