At least 39 passengers, including two Americans, have been killed in China’s first major bullet train disaster. The “official” cause of the crash has been ruled a lightning strike, though reactions from authorities have raised more than a few eyebrows.
The accident happened Saturday night in Shuangyu on China’s east coast. Two bullet trains were traveling along the same line, which is nothing unusual. However, what is believed to be a lightning strike hit one of the trains disabling its power and causing the train to come to a complete stop on the tracks. The lighting strike also shorted out the track safety system signal, allowing the second train to plow into the disabled train from behind. To make matter worse, the collision happened on an elevated section of track 60 feet off the ground, pushing two train cars off the bridge and plunging 60 feet to the ground below.
The current death toll stands at 39, with close to 190 other people injured. Unfortunately the death toll is likely to increase; at least 200 other passengers were sitting in two train carriages that plunged 60 feet to the ground.
Things could have been much worse. Local radio stations in Zhejiang, a major city close to the accident, are hailing Pan Yiheng the driver of the second train. Pan Yiheng triggered the emergency brake in his train just before the impact—sadly Pan Yiheng died when the very brake handle that possibly saved hundreds of lives stabbed him through the chest during the crash. If the train had been going faster, the devastation may have been much, much worse.
The stretch of track on which the accident happened was completed in 2009 and is used for both passenger rail and freight. Due to the shared functionality of the track, passenger bullet trains are not allowed to hit top speeds that can be up to 220mph in certain models of trains.
China’s high speed rail program has come under heavy criticism in recent months. Allegations of corruption, high ticket prices, and train delays have tarnished the programs ambitious goals. In February Liu Zhijun, the Chinese Railways Minister and the man in charge of rolling out the high speed track network was arrested on suspicion of corruption. In June China restricted the top speed of all of their high speed trains over safety concerns.
Chinese State media reported Tuesday that the government had reached a tentative agreement to give families of crash victims 500,000 yuan each in compensation. Never the less, anger has exploded on the Chinese Internet over the crash and what has been seen as a poor response by the Chinese government to the tragedy. Outcries of a coverup have poured in as authorities quickly buried the two fallen train cars to “protect state secrets”…likely stolen from other countries. There have also been accusations that the real story here is the failure of the signal system to warn the approaching train of trouble on the tracks.
China has quickly built the world’s largest high speed rail network, and plans to expand the network across Asia…but are they building it right? Or are they taking too many shortcuts that will result in similar tragedies in the future?
Source: The Telegraph | Image: Reuters
Andrew Meggison was born in the state of Maine and educated in Massachusetts. Andrew earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Government and International Relations from Clark University and a Master’s Degree in Political Science from Northeastern University. Being an Eagle Scout, Andrew has a passion for all things environmental. In his free time Andrew enjoys writing, exploring the great outdoors, a good film, and a creative cocktail.