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Wenzhou train crash

China has one of the world's most extensive networks of railway and its train system is overtaxed. However accidents with fatalities are rare. Many more people die making train lines than riding on them.

Gerald Ollivier, a senior infrastructure specialist at the World Bank in Beijing, told the The New Yorker in 2013 that trains in China are still by far one of the safest means of transportation. “If you think about it, the China high-speed railway must be transporting at least four hundred million people per year,” he said. “How many people have died on the China high-speed railway in the past four years? Forty people. This is the number of people who die in road accidents in China every five or six hours. So, in terms of safety, this is by far one of the safest ways of transportation. The accident this past year was certainly very tragic and should not have happened. But, compared to the alternative of moving people by car, it is safer by a factor of at least a hundred.” [Source: Evan Osnos, The New Yorker, October 22, 2013]

Recent Train Accidents in China

In 1997, 125 people were killed and 90 were injured when a train heading north on the Guangzhou-Beijing line crashed into train stopped at a station in the Hunan province.

In December 2001, at least 28 people were killed when a train slammed into a bus at a railway crossing in the city of Artuz in Xinjiang. The bus “disintegrated completely.”

In August 2005, five people were killed and 30 were injured when a passenger train crashed into a cargo train in Liaonging Province. The accident was blamed on a signal failure that in turn was caused by electrical cables being stolen.

In March 2009, nine construction workers were killed when a construction site in Jiangsu Province for China’s high speed railroad between Beijing and Shanghai collapsed, burying the workers.

In August 2009, four people were killed and 50 were injured when a train derailed near Liuzhou city in Guangxi. The cause was a landslide that occured after days of heavy rain,

In June 2009, three people were killed and 60 were injured when two trains collided near Chenzhou in Hunan Province. Train cars derailed and careened into houses near the tracks.

In June 2010, a passenger train hit by landslides in a mountainous area near Fuzhou city in eastern Jiangsu Province derailed, leaving eight people dead and 55 injured. The train, bound for the tourist destination of Guilin, came off the tracks when it crashed into mounds of dirt and debris that fell on tracks from landslides caused by heavy rains. A team of rescuers, including police, firefighters and soldiers, converged on used the scene, pulling dozens of people trapped in the train. In some cases rescuers used heavy cutting and sawing equipment to to cut into the train, Eight of the 17 carriages of the train derailed and even flipped over. Heavy rains had deluged the area for several days. So much water had fallen that reservoirs were forced to release water, flooding low-lying and residential areas downstream. [Source: AP]

In August 2012, nine people were killed and four others were hurt when they were hit by a freight train while walking on a railway bridge near the northern port city of Qinhuangdao. The Taiyuan Railway Bureau in Shanxi province — which oversees the stretch of the railway near Qinhuangdao — said that the victims were local villagers who decided to walk across the railway bridge after rains washed out a local road. [Source: Associated Press August 3, 2012]

In April 2014, fifteen people were been hospitalized after a train derailed in northeast China. The pre-dawn accident occurred in Heilongjiang province [Source: Associated Press, April 13, 2014]

Train Accident in China in 2008 Kills 72 People

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Wenzhou train crash

In April 2008, a high-speed passenger train jumped the tracks and collided with another train near the city of Zibo in the eastern province of Shandong, killing 72 people and injuring 420. The crash occurred just before dawn and involved a train heading from Beijing to the city of Qingdao. Nine of the train’s 10 carriages were knocked into a dirt ditch, with several cars falling on their side. It was the worst train accident in China in more than a decade.

The crash was blamed on speeding. Records show the train that jumped the tracks was traveling at a speed of 131kph over a section it was supposed to be traveling at 80kph. Local authorities were blamed for failing to order the Qingdai-bound train to slow down at a construction site, where an additional rail line was being built for the Olympics. Two high-ranking railway officials in Shandong were fired immediately. Six people, including the driver, were detained.

Most of the passengers were sleeping at the time of the accident. One who was standing in the aisle waiting to get off at an approaching station told AP, “I suddenly felt the train, like a roller coaster, topple, to one side and all the way to other side. When it finally went off the track many people fell on me.”

Another woman told AP, “I was a wake. I just got back from using the bathrooms. People who were sleeping, they got crushed to death and wouldn’t even know it..I crawled out of a window, Anywhere there was space to get out, people were trying to get out.” A 10-year-old boy in the hospital said, “I was sleeping so I don’t remember much. I don’t even know how I got here.”

Shanghai Subway Collision Leaves Hundreds Hurt

Two subway trains collided in a tunnel in downtown Shanghai, near Yu Yuan Gardens, injuring 284 passengers and requiring more than 500 passengers to be evacuated from the trains after the collision. Of the injured, 95 were admitted to hospitals or were under observation, the city health department said. No one was in critical condition, it said. State-run Xinhua news agency reported 20 people were in serious condition, and four foreigners were injured but none severely. Photos of the scene posted on Weibo, China's equivalent of Twitter, showed passengers covered with blood lying on the train or being helped by rescuers. Most injuries were not serious[Source: Steven Jiang, CNN, September 27, 2011]

It was the worst subway train accident in 42 years. CNN reported: Shanghai Shentong Metro Company, the city's subway operator, said a train on Metro Line 10 rear-ended another after an equipment failure at a station forced dispatchers to switch to manual mode."It's the darkest day since Shanghai Metro began its operations," Shentong said on its official Weibo account, apologizing to all riders and promising a thorough investigation.

One passenger on the first subway described to CNN the frightening moments after his train stalled on the track for about 20 minutes. "Suddenly we heard this loud noise -- the train started shaking and many people fell to the ground," said Duan Youxing, a recent college graduate. "Smoke came out between two conjoined cars and everyone just panicked."

Local media reported Metro Line 10's signal system was supplied by one of the companies that also manufactured signal equipment for the country's high-speed railway. That company's design flaws were blamed for a fatal bullet train collision in July in eastern China that killed at least 40 people. Metro Line 10 opened in 2010. It had another incident less than two months before the September crash. In July, a train on the line traveled in the wrong direction and the subway operator later said the accident was caused by a signal system malfunction during an equipment upgrade.

Some experts have long questioned the "great leap forward" strategy in constructing subway systems in cities across China, warning of potential safety issues. Shanghai, China's largest city, built the world's longest subway network in less than two decades. Shanghai Metro's first line opened in 1995, and now boasts 11 lines and more than 434 kilometers (270 miles) of tracks. It was not the first time there were problems on Line 10. Two months before a train took a wrong turn because of a signal failure, nearly leading to a collision. “The accident is an embarrassment for the Shanghai Metro operator because it had promised that the current signaling system would prevent trains from hitting one another,” the official China Daily newspaper said. The company that supplied signals for the Shanghai Metro also made the signaling equipment for the high-speed line in Wenzhou.

Services on Line 10 were shut across a 13-station stretch most of the day after the wreck. Full operations on the track resumed at 8:00pm., Shanghai Metro said. The company limited train speeds to 45 kilometers (28 miles) an hour. As Shentong restarted running Metro Line 10 some Chinese netizens responded angrily to the news. "The injured are still in the hospital and the cause is still being investigated, how dare you announce the resumption of service already -- and with so much pride?" wrote user Liang Shuxin on Weibo. "It only shows the authorities don't consider ordinary people's lives worthwhile."

Shanghai Subway Collision Caused by Power Failure Not Signals

Bloomberg reported that Shanghai’s subway operator said the crash that injured 284 people was caused by a power failure and manual error, a day after its chairman blamed the accident on signaling equipment. Controllers didn’t follow proper procedures after a power shortage disrupted signaling, Shanghai Shentong Metro Co. said in a statement. [Source: Bloomberg News, September 28, 2011]

Shanghai Shentong Metro’s Chairman Yu Guangyao told reporters hours after the accident that the collision happened because of a fault in equipment made by Alstom SA-backed Casco Signal Ltd. “The main cause of the accident has no relation with the signaling system,” Philippe Kasse, a spokesman for Levallois- Perret, France-based Alstom, said by e-mail yesterday. Casco Signal, a venture with China Railway Signal & Communication Corp., “can’t be held as responsible,” he said.

The accident, two months after a fatal high-speed train crash, has stoked concerns that China’s rapid construction of new transport links comes at the cost of safety. Shanghai’s subway and maglev-train network expanded more than sevenfold in eight years to 453 kilometers because of a growing population and demand during last year’s World Expo. “This is an alarm bell for the subway system after years of rapid growth,” said Jack Xu, an analyst at Sinopac Securities Asia Ltd. in Shanghai. “Investment in the sector may slow in the near term.”

Twelve Punished for Shanghai Subway Crash

In October 2011 AP reported: “A subway crash in Shanghai that injured nearly 300 people resulted from negligence, inadequate training and faulty installation of backup power systems, the city's safety agency said. It announced penalties for a dozen subway employees. Three train operators were removed from their posts, the Shanghai Administration of Work Safety said, while nine other subway system managers and workers were also punished for the crash of one subway train into another. [Source: Elaine Kurtenbach, AP, October 7, 2011]

The subway crash was a shock for Shanghai, a city of 23 million that had its entire transport infrastructure — roads, airports, ports, tunnels and subways — upgraded ahead of the city's 2010 World Expo. It occurred just two months after two bullet trains in east China's Zhejiang Province crashed, killing 40 people and injuring 177. The July 23 accident exposed festering resentments over the huge costs of the country's massive buildup of its rail system, especially its high-speed lines. The Shanghai accident highlights some of the risks of hasty construction and deployment of showcase infrastructure, especially given China's poor track record for industrial safety. The affected line — Line 10 — operated by Shanghai Shentong Metro Group, is one of Shanghai's newest and most modern.

A loss of power on the line during repairs caused the signal system to fail and dispatchers then issued faulty orders that caused one train to rear end another as it sat still on the tracks in an area near the city's scenic Yuyuan Garden. The report said Shanghai Shentong's first mistake was in authorizing repair work at a station without having a contingency plan in case it disrupted the power supply. The repair work caused a loss of power to the station that led the signaling system to fail. "Shanghai Shentong should be people-oriented, put safety first, and draw deep lessons from the accident," the report said. It said the metro operator would face maximum financial penalties for its lapses, without giving any details.

The report also cited problems with installation of backup power from uninterrupted power supply — UPS — equipment, which should have kicked in to prevent any lengthy power outages. With the power out, subway operators then chose to direct trains on Line 10 via phone instead of electronic signals and ordered a train to stop in a tunnel between two stations. About half an hour later, another train started out from one of the stations and headed toward the halted train at a speed of up to 54 kilometers per hour (34 mph), until the driver saw the stationary train and immediately tried to brake. It crashed into the stationary train at a speed of 35 kph (22 mph). Although the train was crowded at the mid-afternoon time of the crash, the relatively slow speed helped to reduce injuries, most of which were light and not life-threatening, according to city officials.

High-tech automatic train protection systems are designed to improve safety while allowing more trains to travel within shorter intervals. Normally such systems prevent crashes by controlling train speeds and signaling the presence of any other trains on the line. The supplier of the signaling system for the line — a joint venture between a local company and France's Alstom SA — denied earlier claims by the subway operator that its equipment malfunctioned, saying the crash had nothing to do with its system.

Image Sources: Xinhua

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, The Guardian, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated July 2022

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