Train collision leaves 70 dead

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A high-speed passenger train jumped its tracks and slammed into another train in eastern China yesterday, killing at least 70 people and injuring more than 400 in China's worst train accident in a decade.

Some passengers were sleeping and others were standing in the aisle waiting to get off in Zibo when their train toppled into a ditch "like a roller coaster" and slammed into the other train.

China reacted swiftly, sending top officials and soldiers to the scene, and sacking two railway officials.

Authorities were quoted as saying that human error was to blame. The official Xinhua News Agency also said one of the trains was travelling over its speed limit.

News photos showed rescuers pulling passengers from a carriage sitting on its side. Survivors bundled in white bed sheets from the sleeper cars stood or sat near the wreckage.

The death toll could rise, with 70 people in hospital classed as 'critical', according to Xinhua.

Security was tight near the scene of the accident, in a rural part of Shandong province, with roads to the crash site sealed by police and nearby roads lined by paramilitary and police vehicles.

A total of 420 people had been hurt, Xinhua said.

No foreigners were among the dead. Injured survivors included four French nationals, a Chinese national sailing team coach and a three-year-old boy.

The injured were scattered at hospitals throughout the region. Ten people were forced to sleep in the hallway of the packed orthopaedic surgery floor at Zibo Central Hospital, including a teenage boy whose mother had rushed in from Beijing.

The woman, who was resting on a narrow cot next to her son's hospital bed, said she had just arrived and did not know details about the accident.

"My son just fell asleep, please don't wake him," she whispered, stroking his hand and refusing to answer any questions.

A man curled on a blanket on the floor nearby snored loudly, the sounds echoing down the quiet hallway.

Some 1,000 soldiers and armed police were sent to the crash site to seal it off and help with the rescue work, Xinhua said. Heavy cranes were used to move the wrecked rail cars, and workers aimed to reopen the line by tomorrow morning, a little more than 24 hours after the accident.

Wooden railroad ties were stacked atop a line of trucks parked near the site, and soldiers were seen driving in backhoes and other machinery.

Trains are the most popular way to travel in China, and the country's overloaded rail network carried 1.36 billion passengers last year. While accidents are rare, the government is trying to extend and upgrade the state-run rail network and introduce more high-speed trains.