China Faces Public Anger in Train Wreck Aftermath

Posted July 26th, 2011 at 9:25 am (UTC-5)
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China's official Xinhua news agency is reporting widespread public outrage at the government's handing of the deadly crash of two a high-speed trains, including moves to bury at least one wrecked passenger carriage before determining the cause of the collision.

Controversy surrounding Saturday's wreck south of Shanghai swelled Tuesday, after an online video showed a passenger car being buried at the site of the crash. The video sparked what Xinhua described as “concerns the true reason for the crash might be buried along with it.” The report also quoted a railway ministry spokesman as saying the car was buried to make it easier for rescue operations.

The carriage was dug up Monday. But not before Chinese media began carrying reports of a growing public furor over the government's conduct, and speculation about a possible official coverup.

Beijing on Tuesday ordered a two-month review of safety measures on all of its railways, as the death toll reached 39.

Railway Minister Sheng Guangzu was quoted in state media as saying the inspection campaign will focus on fixing safety problems and “stabilizing the safety situation.”

Major Chinese newspapers carried prominent articles on public discontent over the crash, which authorities say was triggered by a lightning strike that stalled a high-speed train on a bridge. A second train slammed into the back of it, sending several carriages falling to the ground below.

China Daily spoke of the public's “shattered confidence” in the rail system and cited an online poll in which only 15 percent of a quarter million respondents said they think the nation's railways are safe.

Another paper, Global Times, carried an article under the headline, “Anger mounts at lack of answers on train crash.” It said about 30 relatives of victims of the crash gathered outside a local government office Monday night to demand an accounting from railway officials.

The public has seized on the story of a 2-year-old girl who was pulled from the wreckage almost a full day after the crash. Doctors said Tuesday they no longer think they will have to amputate the girl's leg, but both of her parents were killed.

Online forums have been filled with complaints that the government has not adequately explained the accident. Many also question the nation's rapid construction of high-speed rail lines in a program that has been tainted by charges of bribery and corruption.

The previous railways minister, Liu Zhijun, was forced to resign in February amid allegations that millions of dollars was embezzled from the program. The ministry managed more than $100 billion in high-speed rail projects last year.

Saturday's accident occurred on a high-speed rail line in eastern China between the cities of Hangzhou and Wenzhou. Earlier this month, another train on the high-profile Beijing to Shanghai line was halted for hours when a lightning strike knocked out its electrical power.