Outrage at Wenzhou disaster pushes China to suspend bullet train project

 

Hong Kong

China has put the brakes on its flagship high-speed rail project, freezing approval of new railway schemes and halting some bullet train manufacturing after a crash last month that killed 40 people and dented public confidence in the government.

Since the collision on 23 July, the Chinese government has been accused of putting the desire to modernise and innovate ahead of safety, with critics saying the system is too expensive and too dangerous.

The crash happened when one bullet train was stopped on a viaduct near the eastern city of Wenzhou after a lightning strike and another high-speed train ploughed into it. The accident has been blamed on faulty signalling equipment. "We will suspend for the time being the examination and approval of new railway construction projects," said the State Council, or cabinet.

The Railways Minister also promised a nationwide safety inspection and announced further reductions in the top speed of bullet trains following cuts in April. "This accident exposed the weaknesses lying in the railway transportation safety and management," admitted Sheng Guangzu in comments on the council's website. A state-owned manufacturer said it would suspend production of its high-speed trains used on the Beijing-Shanghai line while it investigates equipment failures. China North Locomotive and Rolling Stock gave no further details but the official Xinhua News Agency said trains "abnormally stopped" on three occasions due to faulty sensor signals.

The level of public outrage in reaction to the crash was intense. It was so powerful that even China's official media got in on the act. The normally placid People's Daily newspaper, which is effectively the Communist Party mouthpiece, wrote that China did not need "blood-soaked GDP".

The decision to put the project on ice came after an executive meeting of the State Council, which was presided over by Premier Wen Jiabao. The high-speed rail system is a prestige project for the Communist Party, designed to showcase China's innovative abilities and technological prowess, and Beijing insists the project is still a runner. "China will unswervingly continue its development of high-speed railways," the government said.

The project was one of the largest recipients of the trillions of yuan made available by the Chinese government for infrastructure projects after the economic crisis of 2008.

But the national rail system has been soaked in controversy. Before last month's crash, Mr Sheng's predecessor, Liu Zhijun, was sacked in February over corruption charges, after he allegedly took more than 800 million yuan (£77m) in kickbacks over several years on contracts linked to the high-speed network.

Mr Sheng told Xinhua that routes with a designed maximum speed of 350kph (220mph) will now run at 300kph. Beijing has also shelved plans to expand the high-speed network to 13,000km of railway by the end of this year. China launched its bullet trains in 2007. By the end of 2010, 8,358km of high-speed railways had been put into operation, ranking China first in the world in terms of length.

Premier Wen was forced to make a public statement that he was too sick to visit the accident site immediately after the accident – his absence had sparked widespread public anger. Known as "Grandpa Wen" for his comforting appearances at times of national stress, Mr Wen promised a full and frank investigation into the crash, but the damage had been done.

Suggested Topics
News
Russell Brand was in typically combative form during his promotional interview with Newsnight's Evan Davis
peopleReports that Brand could stand for Mayor on an 'anti-politics' ticket
News
The clocks go forward an hour at 1am on Sunday 30 March
news
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor finds himself in a forest version of London in Doctor Who episode 'In the Forest of the Night'
peopleReview: Is the Doctor ever going stop frowning? Apparently not.
News
Voluminous silk drawers were worn by Queen Victoria
peopleThe silk underwear is part of a growing trade in celebrity smalls
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for spe...

Business Analyst - Surrey - Permanent - Up to £50k DOE

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***ASP.NET Developer - Cheshire - £35k - Permanent***

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***Solutions Architect*** - Brighton - £40k - Permanent

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker