/ 30 April 2008

Officials: China rail crash linked to Games construction

A new railway line being built as part of an upgrade ahead of the Beijing Olympics was a factor in a train crash that left 71 people dead in east China, officials and state press said on Wednesday.

The pre-dawn crash near Zibo city on Monday, which also left more than 400 people injured, was the most severe in China in more than 10 years.

Authorities blamed the accident in Shandong province on the excessive speed of a train from Beijing to Qingdao city — site of the Olympic sailing competition — which derailed and slammed into an oncoming train.

According to Zhang Mingqi, vice-head of a Cabinet-level team investigating the accident, orders had gone out to drivers to reduce speed on the section of the track where the accident occurred because of construction on the line.

At the site of the crash, workers had dug a more than 20m-deep hole to be used as the foundation as they link up another railway line from the Shandong capital of Jinan, local officials said.

”This is part of the Jinan-Qingdao line which is being built for the Olympic Games,” Zibo city spokesperson Li Chenggang said at the site of the crash.

”The line is expected to be completed before the Olympic Games and will make travel between Jinan and Qingdao much faster.”

Last week, the Jinan Railway Bureau in Shandong printed an order to reduce train speeds on the section of the line under construction to 80km/h an hour, Zhang said.

The train was travelling 131km/h an hour when it derailed as it rounded a curve near the construction site.

Orders to reduce speed were not properly transmitted to train drivers, the Beijing News said.

”After this order was issued, no one confirmed that it had been received by the concerned work units,” the paper said.

Workers on the project, many of whom had assisted in pulling out injured and dead passengers from the wreck, refused to comment on whether their construction work contributed to the tragedy.

But Wang Jun, head of the State Administration of Work Safety, said that authorities were also investigating whether the construction work had destabilised the existing track.

”In this investigation we need to clearly grasp factors in several areas — the first is the foundation of the track, whether or not it is stable,” the official Xinhua news agency quoted Wang as saying.

Three top officials of the Jinan Railway Bureau have already been sacked in the aftermath of the accident.

Chinese authorities have scrambled to deal with the fall-out from the wreck, with 19 hospitals in Zibo working overtime to treat the injured.

”The work carried out by Zibo city has gone smoothly,” Liu Xinsheng, vice-secretary of the Communist Party in Zibo, told reporters on Tuesday.

”Now we face the very hard and difficult task of taking care of all those who have been injured.”

Of the 416 people injured, the vast majority remained in hospital on Wednesday, with only 39 discharged so far.

Train service on the line resumed on Tuesday. — AFP