China blames fatal train crash on 54 officials

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The Independent Online

Bad management and design errors caused a high-speed rail crash in July that killed 40 people and caused a huge public backlash against the Chinese government's pet high-tech project, an official report said yesterday.

China's cabinet, the State Council, announced that 54 officials were responsible for the crash and would be punished. They include Liu Zhijun, a former railway minister who has been jailed for corruption, and Zhang Shuguang, the rail ministry's deputy chief engineer, who has also been removed from office, the Xinhua news agency reported.

Ma Cheng, chairman of the China Railway Signal and Communication Corp, which made the railway signalling system, was also singled out. He died of a heart attack while talking to investigators in August.

The fact that the main figures blamed by the report, which was initially due to be released in November, are either dead or in prison means there is unlikely to be any major political upheaval.

The crash on July 23, when a high-speed train rammed into a stalled train near the city of Wenzhou in the eastern province of Zhejiang, left 40 people dead and 172 injured. A lightning strike caused one train to lose power and a signalling failure led the second train to rear-end the first.

The crash badly undermined the high-speed rail project and triggered a public outcry over the high costs and dangers of the bullet train system.