- The Washington Times - Monday, April 28, 2008

BEIJING (AP) — A high-speed passenger train jumped its tracks and slammed into another train in eastern China today, killing at least 70 people and injuring more than 400. Authorities were quoted as saying human error was to blame.

The death toll could rise, with 70 people hospitalized in critical condition after the pre-dawn crash in a rural part of Shandong province, the official Xinhua News Agency said.

It said a total of 420 people had been hurt in China’s worst train accident in a decade. No foreigners were among the dead.

Xinhua said investigators had ruled out terrorism as a cause of the crash. Its English report said it was human error, while its Chinese-language report attributed the crash to negligence, without giving other details.

Xinhua said two high-ranking railway officials in Shandong had been fired.

The crash just before the May Day long weekend holiday happened when a train traveling from Beijing to Qingdao — site of the sailing competition during the Olympics in August — derailed and hit a second passenger train just before dawn. Nine of the first train’s carriages were knocked into a dirt ditch, Railway Ministry spokesman Wang Yongping said in a statement.

The second train on its way from Yantai in Shandong to Xuzhou in eastern Jiangsu province was knocked off its tracks although it stayed upright. News photos showed several of its carriages sitting across the train tracks just outside the city of Zibo.

News photos showed rescuers pulling passengers from a carriage sitting on its side. Survivors bundled in white bed sheets from the sleeper cars stood or sat near the wreckage.

Xinhua said bloodstained sheets and broken thermos flasks could be seen on the ground beside the twisted train cars. It did not say how many people were on both trains. “Most passengers were still asleep, but some were standing in the aisle waiting to get off at the Zibo railway station,” one passenger surnamed Zhang told Xinhua. “I suddenly felt the train, like a roller coaster, topple … to one side and all the way to the other side. When it finally went off the tracks, many people fell on me,” Ms. Zhang said.

Ms. Zhang, who was on the train from Bejing, was injured when the train toppled into farmland beside the track. She said local villagers used farm tools to smash train windows to pull out trapped passengers. “I saw a girl who was trying to help her boyfriend out of the train, but he was dead,” Ms. Zhang said. A 38-year-old woman told Xinhua that she and daughter, 13, escaped unhurt by scrambling through a huge crack in the floor of their carriage. Four French nationals — three from one family — were among the injured. Xinhua said heavy cranes were being used to move the wrecked rail cars, with workers aiming to reopen the line by tomorrow, a little more than 24 hours after the accident. One villager who witnessed the rescue operation said ambulances ferried the injured away for more than three hours. “There were a lot of police and soldiers around and I saw a lot of ambulances going back and forth,” the villager told the Associated Press. He would give only his surname, Wang. It was the second major railway accident in Shandong this year. In January, 18 people died when a train hurtling through the night at more than 75 miles per hour slammed into a group of about 100 workers carrying out track maintenance near the city of Anqiu. According to the 163.com news Web site, it was the worst train accident in China since 1997, when another collision killed 126 people. Trains are the most popular way to travel in China, and the country’s overloaded rail network carried 1.36 billion passengers last year, Xinhua said. That is slightly behind India, which had 1.4 billion passengers last year, according to the Indian National Railways Web site.

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