A train crash in China
A new third rail
Suddenly the Communist Party’s showcase project is in trouble
Jul 30th 2011 | BEIJING | from the print edition
NO TRANSPORT accident has caused such an outcry in China as did the collision on July 23rd of two bullet trains, in which at least 39 people died. With the accident and the railway ministry’s crass response, public grievance is widespread. A cherished project, the rapid expansion of what is already the world’s longest high-speed rail network, is in tatters.
The crash on a viaduct near the coastal town of Wenzhou is above all a big embarrassment to the Communist Party itself. Only a few weeks earlier party officials had been crowing about the network’s latest, and most expensive, addition: a 1,320km (820-mile) line between Beijing and Shanghai that cost more than $30 billion. Its opening was timed as a celebration of the party’s 90th birthday on July 1st. Soon services on the new line were disrupted by power cuts. Angry passengers waited for hours in sweltering heat.
The collision occurred on another line that opened two years ago. It was the four-year-old network’s first fatal crash, and the bloodiest train accident since more than 70 people died in 2008. As it did then, the railway ministry responded to this week’s fatalities by sacking officials from the region responsible, in this case Shanghai. But as even some state-owned newspapers have pointed out, the man appointed to succeed the bureau’s disgraced chief had himself been demoted in connection with the 2008 accident.