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July 28, 2011

Signalling flaws cited as cause of Chinese rail crash

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THE head of Shanghai Railway Bureau, Mr An Lusheng, said today that the fatal crash between two high-speed trains on July 23 on a viaduct near Wenzhou on the Ningbo - Xiamen line was due to design flaws in the signalling. He explained the signal protecting the first train which had come to halt following a lightning strike failed to turn from green to red allowing the following train to crash into the rear of the stationary train.
 
The signalling system, which was been in service since September 28 2009, was designed by Beijing National Railway Research & Design Institute of Signals and Communications. The institute, which has issued an apology and acknowledged that it was the source of the design flaw, says it will "face up to shouldering responsibility, and accept any punishment that is due, and will strictly undertake pursuing culpability of those responsible. Safety overrides all else, and high-speed rail safety is of even more overriding importance."

The Chinese government is taking the accident very seriously. The Chinese premier Mr Wen Jiabao left his hospital sick bed to visit the crash site today. "High-speed railway development should integrate speed, quality, efficiency and safety, and safety should be put in first place," Wen said. "Without safety, high-speed trains will lose their credibility." Wen admitted that China's high-speed trains will only obtain global trust when they are "truly safe." Wen said that the accident, in which 39 people died and 192 were injured, "has reminded us to attach more importance to the safety of our high-speed railways."

Wen also acknowledged that the strong public reaction in China to the accident needs to be addressed: "I believe that we should earnestly listen to the public's views, treat them seriously and provide the public with a responsible explanation."

The accident has prompted the government to launch a programme to improve safety in other areas. Wen chaired a State Council executive meeting on July 27 which decided to take resolute measures to strengthening safety in transport, coal, construction, hazardous chemicals and other industries.

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