Crash raises doubts about China’s fast rail plans

Question of the Day

Is it still considered bad form to talk politics during a social gathering?

View results

BEIJING (AP) - Doubts about China’s breakneck plans to expand high-speed rail across the country have been underscored by a bullet train wreck that killed at least 39 people.

One train rammed into the back of another that had stalled after being hit by lightning Saturday in China’s deadliest rail accident since 2008. Six carriages derailed and four fell about 65 to 100 feet (20 to 30 meters) from a viaduct. More than 190 people were injured.

Railways Minister Sheng Guangzu has apologized to the victims of the crash and their families. The U.S. Embassy in Beijing said two U.S. citizens were among the dead. The Italian Foreign Ministry said a 22-year-old Italian woman was killed while another Italian was injured.

The Railways Ministry and government officials haven’t explained why the second train was apparently not warned there was a stalled train in its path.

One expert said he thought human error may have been involved.

“I think the problem may have come from the mistakes of dispatching management, instead of technological failure,” said Qi Qixin, a professor at the Transportation Research Institute of Beijing University of Technology. “The system should have an ability to automatically issue a warning or even stop a train under such circumstances,” he said.

The accident is the latest blow to China’s bullet train ambitions. Designed to show off the country’s rising wealth and technological prowess, the high-speed rail project has national prestige on par with China’s space program.

Beijing plans to expand the high-speed rail network _ already the world’s biggest _ to link far-flung regions and is also trying to sell its trains to Latin America and the Middle East. But critics say tickets are costly and the services do not really meet the needs of average travelers in many areas.

Last month, China launched to great fanfare the Beijing to Shanghai high-speed line, whose trains can travel at a top speed of 186 miles (300 kilometers) per hour. The speed was cut from the originally planned 217 mph (350 kph) after questions were raised about safety.

In less than four weeks of operation, power outages and other malfunctions have plagued the showcase 820-mile (1,318-kilometer) line. The Railways Ministry previously apologized for the problems and said that summer thunderstorms and winds were the cause in some cases.

Official plans for China’s bullet train network to expand to 8,000 miles (13,000 kilometers) of track this year and 10,000 miles (16,000 kilometers) by 2020.

China’s trains are based on Japanese, French and German technology, but the manufacturers are trying to sell to Latin America and the Middle East. That has prompted complaints that Beijing is violating the spirit of licenses with foreign providers by reselling technology that was meant to be used only in China.

Saturday’s accident involved the first-generation bullet trains, which were launched in 2007 and have a top speed of 155 miles (250 kilometers) per hour _ slower than the new Beijing to Shanghai trains.

The tragedy pummeled railway shares with China Railway Group sliding 7.7 percent. The high-speed rail woes added to negative sentiment from the U.S. debt deadlock, sending the Shanghai Composite Index down 3 percent to 2,688.75.

State broadcaster CCTV reported that 39 people were killed and 192 injured, according to the Railways Ministry.

Story Continues →

View Entire Story

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Comments
blog comments powered by Disqus
TWT Video Picks