- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 28, 2011

BEIJING A long-awaited government report said design flaws and sloppy management caused a bullet-train crash in July that killed 40 people and triggered a public outcry over the dangers of China’s showcase transportation system.

A former railway minister was among 54 officials found responsible for the crash, a Cabinet statement said Wednesday. Several were ordered dismissed from Communist Party posts, but there was no word of possible criminal penalties.

The crash report was highly anticipated by the public. The disaster near the southern city of Wenzhou also injured 177 people and had triggered a public outcry over the high cost and dangers of the bullet-train system, a prestige project that once enjoyed lofty status on a level with the country’s manned space program.

Regulations had required the report to be released by Nov. 20. When that date passed, the government offered little explanation, drawing renewed criticism by state media, which have been unusually skeptical about the handling of the accident and the investigation.

The Cabinet statement cited “serious design flaws and major safety risks” and what it said was a string of errors in equipment procurement and management. It also criticized the Railways Ministry’s rescue efforts.

The report affirmed earlier government statements that a lightning strike caused one bullet train to stall, and then a sensor failure and missteps by train controllers allowed a second train to keep moving on the same track and slam into it.

Those singled out for blame included former Minister of Railways Liu Zhijun, a bullet-train booster who was detained in February amid a graft investigation.

Also criticized was the general manager of the company that manufactured the signal, who died of a heart attack while talking to investigators in August.

The decision to assign blame to one figure who already has been jailed and another who is dead, along with midlevel managers who have been fired, suggests any additional political fallout will be limited.

Several officials including a former Communist Party secretary of the Shanghai Railway Bureau were ordered dismissed from their party posts, a penalty that is likely to end their careers. Others received official reprimands, but there was no mention of possible criminal charges.

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