China High-Speed Trains Collide in East, Killing 35 People

Two of China’s high-speed trains collided in the eastern province of Zhejiang, killing at least 35 people and injuring 210, prompting the railway ministry to call for nationwide emergency safety check on the lines.

The accident occurred late yesterday near Wenzhou when a train lost power after reportedly being struck by lighting and was rear-ended by the second train, the state-run Xinhua News Agency said, citing the provincial emergency office. Four coaches fell off a viaduct after the collision, it said, citing investigators.

President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao sent Vice Premier Zhang Dejiang to Wenzhou, 1,380 kilometers south of Beijing, to oversee rescue and investigation work, Xinhua said. A total of 21 trains starting from Zhejiang’s provincial capital, Hangzhou, were suspended after the crash, it said.

The crash is the latest incident to hit China’s fledging high-speed railway network with the Beijing-Shanghai bullet train, the world’s longest high-speed railway, delayed at least three times since it started operation on June 30. China has the world’s biggest bullet-train network and yesterday’s accident will raise public concerns about the safety of the system.

One of the trains involved in yesterday’s crash was running from Hangzhou to Fuzhou, the capital of Fujian province on the coast, and the other was heading from Beijing to Fuzhou, Xinhua said. There were more than 1,400 passengers on the trains, it cited Zhao Yide, the mayor of Wenzhou, as saying.

Officials Fired

Long Jing, head of the Shanghai Railway Bureau, Li Jia, head of the bureau’s Committee of the Communist Party of China, and He Shengli, deputy chief of the bureau, were dismissed and will be subject to investigation, the Ministry of Railway said on its website today.

Railways minister Sheng Guangzu went to the ministry’s center in Beijing to take control of the rescue operation and later traveled to Wenzhou, Xinhua said earlier.

China plans to have 16,000 kilometers (9,944 miles) of high-speed track by 2015, the rail ministry said in January. It will also spend 2.8 trillion yuan ($434 billion) on railways in the five years ending 2015 to pare pollution and boost links in rural areas, benefiting companies such as China South Locomotive and Rolling Stock Corp. Ltd. and China North Locomotive and Rolling Stock Corp. Ltd., the country’s two leading train makers.

Graft Allegations

Liu Zhijun, an advocate of bullet trains, was fired as railway minister in February for “severe disciplinary violations.” Su Shunhu, deputy chief of the transportation bureau of the Ministry of Railways, is under investigation on suspicion of taking bribes, the 21st Century Business Herald reported on July 22, citing an unidentified ministry official.

The public expressed concern about high-speed trains in messages online after the accident, Xinhua said.

“Who dares to take bullet trains or high-speed trains?” it cited a comment from a person named Su Yan on the website of the Wujin News. “The operational safety of China’s railways is seriously challenged, and it’ll be a long and tough process to earn customers’ trust again.”

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