Sunday, July 24, 2011

China's High Speed Rail Program Takes Hit After Major Accident Kills 32+

China has been spending billions of dollars to build and expand a high speed rail network throughout the country, but from the outset there have been questions and fears over the safety of the system.

Those fears were realized when a major accident occurred yesterday killing at least 32 people.

One train was apparently disabled due to a lightning strike, but safety systems that should have warned other trains to stop didn't work. A speeding train rear-ended the stalled train, causing a derailment. Hundreds were injured and more than 30 killed.

China's rail minister apologized for the accident
, but that will be cold comfort to those who lost loved ones in the accident. The minister was also trying to blame the accident on the weather, but that would suggest that the system is not properly designed to account for common weather. Three others have been fired, but that is the tip of the iceberg.

Lightning should not disable safety systems that would have not only warned of the stalled train. The failure to warn other trains that there was a stalled train in the area led to the accident; but for the equipment failure, the accident would not have occurred. This was a design defect with the high speed rail network.

That goes to the design and safety systems built in to China's high speed rail network and if this problem occurred in this instance, what is to say that the rest of the network isn't built in the same fashion meaning that this is a disaster waiting to happen again and again until suitable backup systems are installed and/or protocols are put in place to prevent future accidents.

The perception of a coverup seems to be in full gear. Instead of using all manner of investigative technologies to examine the damaged rail cars so as to prevent future accidents - as is the way the NHSTA, OSHA, and other American safety agencies do following deadly accidents, the Chinese have taken to burying the damaged railcars so as to somehow prevent "critical technologies from falling into the wrong hands". This is CYA at its worst.
Photos on the popular Weibo microblogging service showed backhoes burying the wrecked train near the site. Critics said the wreckage needed to be carefully examined for causes of the malfunction, but the railway ministry said that the trains contain valuable national technology and could not be left in the open in case it fell into the wrong hands.

Foreign companies maintain that some crucial technology was stolen from their imported trains. But more importantly to domestic audiences is the perception of a coverup. Initial reports of how the accident occurred are already being partly contradicted by reports in the official media.

The Railway Ministry issued a statement Saturday night that said the first train had been struck by lightning and lost power. It did not explain why the second train was not signaled to stop. In addition, new reports on Xinhua indicate that the first train had started to move by the time it was struck. The ministry has not explained the discrepency.

The wreck is one of several high-profile public transportation accidents in China recently. Early Friday, 41 people died when an overloaded bus caught fire in central China’s Henan province.

Earlier this month, an escalator at a subway station in Beijing collapsed, killing one and injuring 28. Last week alone, four bridges collapsed in various Chinese cities.
In the rush to build infrastructure, it appears the Chinese are cutting corners at every opportunity, and the results are a body count that will only keep rising.

No comments: