China High-Speed Rail Crash That Killed 39 Likely Caused by Signal Fault
A Chinese high-speed railway crash that killed 39 people was likely caused by a design flaw in a signaling system, state-run Xinhua News Agency said, citing a preliminary investigation by the Shanghai Railway Bureau.
Duty officers in Wenzhou, the station closest to the site of the July 23 crash in southeast China, also didn’t know that the signals could be wrong and weren’t focused enough on safety, the report said, citing An Lusheng, head of the Shanghai bureau, which oversees rail operations in the area of the accident.
Premier Wen Jiabao pledged a greater focus on rail safety and an “independent” investigation into the accident after visiting the crash site today. The government fired three officials, including An’s predecessor, following the crash and started a two-month review of railway safety.
“The deadly accident has reminded us to attach more importance to the safety of high-speed railway construction,” Wen said, according to Xinhua. “Without safety, high-speed trains will lose their credibility.”
Wen also said that if corruption was found to have contributed to the crash, it would be punished. Victims’ families will receive “reasonable” compensation, he said. Payouts will be 500,000 yuan ($77,600) per victim, Xinhua said yesterday, citing an unidentified official.
The results of the investigation may be released around mid-September, Xinhua said today, citing Luo Lin, the head of the State Administration of Work Safety who is overseeing the probe.
In the disaster, a high-speed train that stopped after a lightning strike was rear-ended by another locomotive. The crash, which pushed four coaches off a viaduct, also injured 192 people, according to the Ministry of Railways. Two Chinese-Americans and an Italian woman were among those killed.
The crash happened after lightning hit the signaling system, which caused a warning light at Wenzhou South Station to fail to turn from green to red, causing the collision, An said, according to Xinhua.
Beijing National Railway Research & Design Institute of Signal & Communication Co. apologized to the families of people killed or injured in the crash and said it would cooperate with the investigation, according to a letter posted today on its website. The company, a unit of state-owned China Railway Signal & Communication Corp, didn’t say what equipment it had supplied or designed.
The stretch of track where the crash occurred had been upgraded for high-speed railways, so trains were only able to run as fast as 250 kilometers per hour (155 miles per hour). By contrast, trains on purpose-built lines, including the Beijing- Shanghai railway, travel as fast as 300 kph.
China has improved its rail technology over the past few years as it invests in research and development, said T.C. Kao, a professor with the University of Illinois’s Railroad Transportation & Engineering Center. The country, which opened its first bullet-train line in 2007, plans to have 16,000 kilometers of high-speed track by 2015.
“They have to develop the country on a fast track, and when you do that, inevitably there will be some hard lesson you have to learn,” Kao said.
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