China's new bullet train sped off the Ningbo-Taizhou-Wenzhou railway Saturday July 23th, leaving a confirmed 43 dead as well as more than 190 wounded in what is China's deadliest train crash since 2008.
The wreck happened when a train that was travelling south from the Zhejiang provincial capital of Hangzhou lost power in a lightning strike, stalled, and was hit from behind by a second train in Wenzhou city. Six carriages derailed and four fell about 25m from an overpass. Railways Minister Sheng Guangzu has apologized to the victims of the crash and their families, and the Chinese government has halted services of 58 other trains and called for a nationwide safety check.
The railway ministry has also fired the head of the Shanghai Railway Bureau, his deputy and the bureau's Communist Party chief.
The accident cast a dark shadow over the band new high speed rail system, which opened to great fanfare and anticipation on June 30th. The much anticipated railway hopes to connect the far-flung regions of the country at a greater speed than ever before.
The first 1,318 km section, connecting Beijing and Shanghai, has caused problems since its opening; at least five smaller incidents were reported on the line, some of which have left trains stopped for hours. Last week, a train from Shanghai to Hangzhou came to a sudden stop because it was said to be travelling through a "no-power zone." A train from Shanghai to Nanjing stalled for half an hour without any power.
The high-speed rail network, the world's biggest, has already cost the government 215billion yuan ($33b; £21b), and plans are still in the works to expand to 13,000km this year and 16,000km by 2020.
Cost constraints and a pressing urgency to complete the project ahead of schedule may be linked to the train's downfall. Some engineers are crediting the extremely rushed timetable allotted for the railway. Experts say that the project, which was completed in only 8 months, should've taken years to meet the proper safety and engineering codes.
Also, the system incorporates technologies from Japan, Germany, France, Canada, and other countries. An integration of these different technologies would normally require months of run-in time, something China failed to do.
The crash only highlights China's relative inexperience with the high-speed railway industry and experts are worried that, in a bid to showcase their economic, technological and political prowess to the rest of the world, safety precautions and regulations may have been sacrificed.
More than the technological short-comings of the system, the railway department and management have recently come under fire for multiple shady political deals, corruption and attempting to hide evidence from the public.
Reports from the site said the ministry was burying parts of the wrecked trains near the site, before the wreckage could be fully examined for other causes of malfunction. China's powerful propaganda sector issued instructions to the domestic media that they should not conduct interviews about what happened or link the crash to the wider debate about high-speed rail.
Three railway officials have also been investigated for corruption this year, according to local media reports.
This is not China's first run-in with the dangers of an over-zealous railway system and corrupt transit officials.
On 23 May 2010, a train travelling from Shanghai to Guilin derailed in the mountains. At least 19 people died, and 71 were injured. A total of at least 53 people were rescued and another 280 were taken from the train. The accident caused the closure of the Shanghai-Kunming railway line. An investigation was launched by Chinese authorities but a cause has yet to be found.
On June 29, 2009, the Chenzhou train collision at Chenzhou railway station in Hunan province, China left three dead and 63 injured. A brake failure is reported to have caused the crash, although this has not been confirmed. An investigation was launched but, so far, no definite cause has been determined.
The April 28, 2008 Shandong train collision was the worst collision since 1997. The crash on the Jiaoji Railway killed 72 people and injured 416 more. A Chinese newspaper blamed the crash on "holes in the management," although it is likely that safety and technological shortcomings were also at fault. When the State Council investigated, a total of 37 people were found to be partly responsible for the accident.
This latest blow to the railway system has left some uncertain as to whether they should continue with plans to expand across the country. Shares of Chinese rail equipment makers have fallen,as well as shares for other train companies around China.
On the other hand, shares of Chinese airlines Air China, China Southern Airlines and China Eastern Airlines all gained more than 4% as investors are banking on more and more people losing trust in the railway system and looking elsewhere for transportation.