“Unusual Criticism”, and People’s Daily’s Take on the Wenzhou Bullet Train Crash

People’s Daily Online (人民网), on Tuesday, published an article about the train crash on a viaduct near Wenzhou, Zhejiang Province, on July 23, where a CRH2 bullet train (also referred to as D301 train) rear-ended a CRH1-046B (also referred to as D3115) train which had been halted there by loss of power, attributed to a lightning strike.

Main Link: http://henan.people.com.cn/news/2011/07/26/556179.html
Links within the following blockquotes were inserted during translation, and aren’t part of the original.

39 people died, and about 200 got injured – rear-end collision! This happens more commonly in car-driving accidents, but it can even happen to technologically advanced trains. How exactly did the particularly serious accident happen? People sincerely hope that the causes of the accident can be identified soon, so that lessons can be learned.

Why did the train control system fail?

The train control system measures the speed, the train’s location between the points of departure and arrival, and automatically prevents rear-end collisions, and collisions. Why didn’t it perform its functions in this accident?

The article then explains in more detail how the train control system is expected to work, and continues:

But this advanced control system failed in this accident. “I’m puzzled about this rear-end accident!”, said 40-year-old D301 train passenger Li Yanting (李研婷)1). She and four others had gotten onto the train in Tianjin on July 23, at perhaps 8.10 h, to tour Yandangshan Mountain. It was rainy during the trip, the train went smoothly, but with a lot of stop and go (时常走走停停). The D301 train isn’t scheduled to stop at Yongjia Railway Station, but theirs stopped there anyway, for several minutes.

At about 20.24, having gotten the departure signal, the train moved on again, now at a clearly faster speed. At that moment, the D3115 train was travelling not far ahead, and its speed was clearly slower than the D301’s. The distance between them kept narrowing, but nobody – neither the passengers, nor the driver(s), and not even the background control and signal center – noticed that.

It had been reported that the control system’s failure, too, had been caused by a  lightning strike, writes People’s Daily. But if so, did that mean that every train would need to be stopped in case of a lightning storm?

The article then quotes ministry of railways spokesman Wang Yongping (王勇平) as saying that “under normal circumstances, this kind of rear-end shouldn’t happen, but it just did happen” (按照正常的情况,列车不应该发生这样的追尾,但它就是发生了……), and that the state council had arranged an accident investigation team which would conscientiously and meticulously investigate the causes of the accident, and that the ministry of railways would actively support the investigation (国务院已经组织事故调查组,将会认真地、严肃地、细致地把事故原因查清楚,铁道部会积极地配合事故调查).

Passengers are quoted as asking why train drivers wouldn’t communicate by phone, even if the signal system failed. When a train lost power, wouldn’t its driver send a dispatch to the coordination center? People were “full of doubts on these issues” (人们对这些问题充满了疑惑), writes People’s Daily. Two passengers remembered that the D3115 had left Yongjia station at a pace of some 20 km/h2), ten minutes prior to the D301 train at a pace of around 100 km/h. With correct coordination, and a departure-time difference of ten minutes between the two trains, the D301 should have had sufficient time to stop [before crashing into the D3115]. According to the reporter’s information, the ministry’s and local Shanghai coordination center were monitoring real-time, and should have issued emergency instructions from the first moment3).

The article points out that on July 25 at about 6 a.m., traffic had resumed with some seventy trains on that day. There had been public concerns about the resumption’s appropriateness, given that there was no finished report on the accident, writes People’s Daily.

The article avoids to refer to the two CRH trains as “Harmony” trains (和谐号). Referrals to that politically-charged term – harmony is a hallmark of party and state chairman Hu Jintao‘s political philosophy – don’t seem to be an absolute “No” on People’s Daily’s website, but only seem to occur on the forums.

Japan’s Asahi Shimbun reports that

[w]hile the Hexie name and CRH letters indicating the train was part of the high-speed railway system were visible at first, the loading shovels crushed the car to erase such labels.

The Asahi report also suggests that a hole had been digged to bury the front car of the bullet train that had rear-ended the other.

Police officials would not confirm that the train car had been buried. But a number of railway sources said it was only natural to bury anything that could not be removed from the accident site,

writes Asahi Shimbun.
Jinghua Shibao (Beijing Times), a paper affiliated with People’s Daily, had published an editorial on July 24 (prior to the above one by People’s Daily itself) which amounted to unusual criticism of the government.

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Notes

1) D301 would be the CRH2 train that rear-ended the halted CRH1-046B (or D3115 ) train.
2)This seems to refer to two passengers, each of who were on the D3115 and the D301 train respectively.
3) “from the first moment would be my translation of 在第一时间.

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Related

» 铁道部发言人称2岁半女孩获救是生命奇迹, (video) sina.com, July 24, 2011
» Phrasebook: xiāng tí bìng lùn, July 11, 2011
» Scientific Development and Contradictions, July 3, 2011
» Imperialism Thwarted on all Fronts, October 27, 2010

Updates/Related

» Interrogating the Party, The Economist, July 25, 2011

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