Crash Lessons 'Still Unlearned'

Netizens say Chinese authorities are out of touch with reality when it comes to transportation safety.
2011-09-28
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A passenger wears a helmet and padding on a metro train in Shanghai, Sept. 28, 2011.
A passenger wears a helmet and padding on a metro train in Shanghai, Sept. 28, 2011.
AFP

Chinese netizens reacted angrily to an official media description of Tuesday's Shanghai subway crash as "mild," while analysts said the collision showed that regulators had yet to learn any lessons from a fatal high-speed rail crash in July.

In a poll viewed on Wednesday evening local time on the popular microblogging site Weibo, 80 percent of respondents said they were "gloomy," "despairing" or "hopeless," while 19 percent said they were "furious" or "unhappy" at the description of the crash by state-run broadcaster CCTV.

At least 200 people were injured after one subway train rear-ended another on the city's Line 10, sparking further popular anger at China's public transport safety record, just two months after a high-speed rail crash near the eastern city of Wenzhou killed 40 people.

User @mangguojieshangdexiaohai commented on Weibo on Wednesday: "Is the Shanghai Metro Line 10 accident a 'mild' accident because no one died? Must people die before you regard it as a serious accident?"

The poll, which garnered more than 1,200 responses and was retweeted more than 990 times, was titled "CCTV describes the Shanghai metro crash as 'mild.' What would you describe as 'mild' about yourself?"

It quickly drew a number of irate and sarcastic comments.

User @wuruqitu commented: "What's mild is the sense of responsibility," while @canglangtiandian's analysis was brief: "I am mildly, like, **** you."

Netizens also commented on the attempts by subway operator Shanghai Shentong Metro to send out updates and soothe public anger through its dedicated Weibo account on Tuesday.

"We ... don't care how fast your trains can go, nor how advanced they are," wrote user @lengfengqing. "We just have one wish: to set off and to arrive, safe and sound."

'Blind pursuit of growth'

Beijing University of Science and Technology professor Hu Xingdou said that hundreds of thousands of people die in accidents across China every year.

"Especially recently, when the pace of development has been similar to the Great Leap Forward (1958-1969)," Hu said. "They frequently lose sight of the safety of individuals in blind pursuit of economic growth."

"Maybe everyone is getting numb, because such disasters are so common now," he said.

Fujian-based blogger and rights activist You Jingyou said the authorities should have investigated all equipment made by the signal manufacturer, which also supplied the signaling equipment affected by the Wenzhou crash.

"The equipment supplier should have a black mark on their record after such an accident," You said.

"Obviously there could also be problems in the management of the equipment and the people hired at a tech support level too."

He said the onus was on the government to work out exactly what went wrong in one accident, and apply the lessons to prevent further incidents.

"The passengers are pretty helpless here. They can't see the whole technological picture," You said. "The leaders are very focused on clearing up and getting the trains running again, but this could mean that some technological details are missed."

"They only seem to know how to control things after something has happened, and that's very frightening."

Hu said China still had a long way to go before it could deliver an adequate safety record on its railways.

"They really aren't taking this seriously at all," he said. "The authorities should be checking all similar types of equipment after a crash, and subjecting the trains to a complete safety check."

Human error

Shanghai Shentong said on Wednesday that human error played a role in Tuesday's train crash that left 189 people injured.

"Initial investigations showed that a sudden loss of power caused the signal system to fail, forcing the trains to be operated manually," the company said in a statement.

It said staff "failed to follow relevant management rules," which led to the accident.

Normal train services had resumed on Line 10 by Wednesday evening after safety checks, the official Xinhua news agency reported.

It said 189 people had been discharged from hospital, while 95 were still receiving medical treatment, quoting Shanghai health officials.

A Shanghai resident surnamed Wu said the city's metro was no stranger to faults and accidents, with a near miss reported on the subway since the Wenzhou crash in July.

"This isn't the first time we have heard this," she said. "It's just that the last time, the trains didn't actually hit each other."

Reported by He Ping for RFA's Mandarin service and by Ho Shan for the Cantonese service. Additional reporting and translation by Luisetta Mudie.

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