crash causes first fatalities on china’s high speed train network

On 23 July 2011, two high speed trains collided in Wenzhou causing four carriages to fall off a viaduct, killing at least 35 people and injuring more than 210.

The accident
The first train, D3115, was travelling from Hangzhou to Fuzhou South when a lightning strike caused its power to be cut near Wenzhou station. A second train, D301, travelling from Beijing to Fuzhou was also using the track (known as 溫州市雙嶼路段) at that time.

At 20:37 local time, D301 collided into the back of D3115 causing two of D3115’s carriages to derail and four of D301’s carriages to fall over a 30m high viaduct.

Derailed carriages falling off a 30m high viaduct near Wenzhou (AFP)

Emergency services arrived on scene by 21:00 despite inclement weather conditions and roadworks in the area at the time.

Both trains were of the first generation D series. These trains travel at an average speed of 200km/h. The faster “bullet trains”, known as the CRH series, travel at faster speeds of 250-350km/h depending on the train line.

This stretch of the high speed rail network opened in September 2009. Trains running on this stretch travel at around 200km/h.

China’s high speed rail network
After a government policy decision to promote the use of rail in the 1990s, high speed rail began to roll out in China in the late 2000s. New line openings are now a regular occurrence as construction occurs at break neck speed.

China's high speed network (The Economist)

In 2011, officials from the Railways Ministry including the Railway Minister were removed from office on corruption charges involving the misappropriation of state funds. The new Minister stressed the importance of quality and safety, and as The Economist suggests, implies that corruption may have led to cost cutting compromising safety.

Safety on China’s rail network is concerning. The table in this diagram (Chinese) shows that a major rail incident in China is almost an annual occurrence.

In comparison, Japan’s shinkansen (新幹線) network has never had a fatality caused by a derailment or collision since commencing service in 1964.  Only one derailment has occurred in its history following an earthquake in 2004.

References: 明報, 明報, 明報, Wikipedia

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