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Wenzhou train crash 'due to design failures'
2011/12/30

Design flaws, sloppy management and the mishandling of a lightning strike that crippled equipment were behind a bullet train crash in July that killed 40 people, an investigation has found.

A total of 54 people, held accountable for the fatal crash, will face punishment, an executive meeting of the State Council said on Wednesday.

On July 23 a bullet train rammed into another stranded on the track after being hit by lightning near the coastal city of Wenzhou in East China's Zhejiang province.

There were "serious design flaws" in the control equipment used at Wenzhou South Railway Station, the report released on Wednesday said.

The equipment was designed by the Beijing National Railway Research and Design Institute of Signals and Communication, a subsidiary of the China Railway Signal and Communication Corp.

Investigators believe that the design defects occurred because of the institute's sloppy management and the corporation's failure to fulfill its duty.

The Ministry of Railways was found to have violated bidding rules and technical examination procedures, which allowed the flawed equipment to be used at the railway station and on other rail lines.

In addition, workers at the Shanghai Railway Bureau did not respond properly when vital controls and the train-tracking facility were put out of action by lightning, the report said.

Following the accident, the Ministry of Railways and the Shanghai Railway Bureau "did not properly handle rescue efforts, did not issue information in a timely manner and did not correctly address public concerns," and this caused public anger, the report said.

The meeting decided to give Party and administrative penalties to 54 people and said more serious penalties could follow.

"Judicial organs are currently conducting an independent investigation in accordance with the law into whether or not these relevant responsible officials committed crimes," it said.

Former railway minister Liu Zhijun and the ministry's former deputy chief engineer Zhang Shuguang were deemed to "have the main leadership responsibility for the accident".

As both were removed from office before the crash after investigations concerning severe discipline violations, penalties will be announced later.

Ma Cheng, general manager of China Railway Signal and Communication Corp, was also held to have leadership responsibility for the crash. Ma died from a heart attack in August in Shenzhen when he was conducting a safety inspection on the new Guangzhou-Shenzhen line.

The conclusion of the investigation, a 36,000-word report, with a detailed penalty section, were made public on the website of the State Administration of Work Safety on Wednesday evening.

According to the report, both trains in the accident, manufactured by CSR Corp Ltd, were in proper working condition and both drivers, one of whom was killed instantly, were cleared of any wrongdoing.

The report also clarified some points that were of major public concern.

Media reports said search and rescue efforts stopped only eight hours after the accident before being resumed. This triggered a public backlash against the ministry, especially after a little girl was rescued 21 hours after the crash.

The report said that this was a misunderstanding, due to a quote given to reporters by an official in charge of rescue operations under the viaduct where the crash occurred.

The official said they stopped searching under the viaduct because no vital signs of life had been detected. But rescue operations were continuing on the viaduct and no one had ordered them to stop.

As for the criticism of the ministry's hasty burial of the wreckage, the report said that officials at Shanghai Railway Bureau were following past practice from previous accidents.

But it stopped before any vital evidence was buried, the report said and investigators had extracted all the evidence from the wreckage.

Minister of Railways Sheng Guangzu, who replaced Liu in February, was asked to make "incisive self-criticism" at the State Council meeting and vowed to make safety his priority.

"It is a big lesson," he said.

Following the accident, the ministry placed speed restrictions on high-speed trains and halted the construction of railways.

It also recalled all flawed equipment. Controls on the Ningbo-Wenzhou railway, the Guangzhou-Zhuhai railway, and Hainan east ring line, have been modified.

The State Council meeting agreed that developing high-speed railways is still "the right path".

The ministry plans to cut its annual rail investment by 15 percent in 2012 to 400 billion yuan ($63 billion).

The ministry also faces soaring debts. In August, it said its total liabilities at the end of June were 2.1 trillion yuan, up by nearly half from the end of 2009 and bringing its liability-to-asset ratio to 59 percent.

 

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