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Chinese officials blamed for bullet train wreck

In a long-anticipated report by the Chinese government, sloppy management and design flaws caused a bullet train to crash in July 2011, in which 40 people were killed and a public outcry was sparked over the dangers of the country’s modern transportation system.

There were 54 officials deemed responsible for the accident, including a former railway minister. Several officials were discharged from Communist Party positions, but possible criminal punishments were not discussed.

The accident investigation was much anticipated. The crash, which happened near the southern town of Wenzhou, caused 177 injuries and 40 deaths, sparking criticism over the high perils and cost of bullet trains, an impressive project once enjoying the same prestige as China’s space program.

The report was required under regulations to be released by 20 November. However, when that date had already passed, Communist Party offered limited explanation, triggering further criticism from the state media, which had been abnormally skeptical about investigation and the handling of disaster.

The Cabinet report cited safety risks and design flaws, included a series of errors in management and equipment procurement. The government also criticized the rescue efforts conducted by the Railways Ministry.

The official statement confirmed earlier government reports that a lightning bolt had caused one train to stop, which was followed by sensor failures and blunders made by train controllers. This allowed a second train to continue moving on the same rail and eventually crash into it.

One of people singled out as responsible was Liu Zhijun, an ex Minister of Railways, who had worked as a bullet train booster and had already been incarcerated in February during a graft investigation. Also blamed was the chief manager of the firm which manufactured the signal, who passed away from a heart attack during the August investigations.

The resolution to blame one person who had already been jailed and another figure who was dead, along with various mid-level chiefs who have already been fired, suggests that further political repercussions will be limited.

Various officials were discharged from their Communist Party posts, including an ex secretary of the Shanghai Railway Bureau, which is a grave penalty likely to terminate any career advancement. Other figures received official rebukes, but there were no talks of potential criminal charges.

Based on Japanese and German systems, the bullet train is one factor of far-reaching federal technology goals that require the development of a Chinese mobile phone standard, a civilian jetliner, and progress in areas from genetics to nuclear power.





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