More than 100 relatives of passengers killed in Saturday’s bullet train crash in Zhejiang Province protested at Wenzhou South Railway Station on Wednesday, demanding to know the “true reason” behind the accident, as Premier Wen Jiabao called for a swift and transparent investigation.
“Help us and tell us what really happened,” protesters shouted, demanding direct talks with officials from the Ministry of Railways (MOR).
They held a 15-meter-long banner reading, “Disclose the true reason behind the July 23 train crash and respect the dignity of victims.”
“They claimed that the bullet trains were built with advanced technology. How could lightning paralyze them so easily?” Wang Hui, who lost her husband in the accident, said to the Global Times, referring to the authorities citing lightning as the cause of the disaster.
The State Grid said on Wednesday that power supplies were normal when the accident happened, refuting speculation that a power shortage was one of the reasons behind the crash.
“I believe there was human error behind the accident. The authorities should not hide anything from the public,” said Wang, who now has to raise her 1-year-old daughter alone.
After several hours, an official from the railway station emerged and promised to forward their requests to relevant departments.
The relatives also complained about the compensation plans offered by the MOR, which came up to 500,000 yuan ($77,626.50).
“Many people here were angered by the offer, especially a maximum 50,000 yuan bonus for those who signed the agreement early, which is deemed insulting,” Wang said.
However, the Wenzhou government on Wednesday issued a statement denying the offer of a bonus.
Most of the protesters also insisted that compensation should be discussed after the cause of the accident is determined and the people responsible are punished.
“I don’t know the cause, so how can I talk about compensation?” a relative of Xiang Weiyi, a 2-year-old girl who lost both her parents in the accident, told the Xinhua News Agency.
“If they (the girl’s parents) had been rescued earlier, they would have had a chance of survival,” the relative said.
By on Wednesday afternoon, family members of only four victims had signed the compensation agreement, the Global Times learned. Two bodies were cremated after their relatives held a brief funeral at a morgue in Wenzhou.
According to the Regulation on the Emergency, Rescue, Investigation and Handling of Railway Accidents that has been effective since 2007, the basic compensation for a killed passenger is 172,000 yuan, which includes compulsory insurance of 20,000 yuan.
The Beijing News said that the amount of compulsory insurance was set in 1992.
Wang Guojun, a professor at the Insurance Institute of the University of International Business and Economics, told the People’s Daily that the compensation regulation is outdated compared with the rapid development of railways.
“Now the trains run much faster, which means the risks are higher. If the railways are of international standard, then compensation rules should also be upgraded,” Wang said, adding that the compensation offer in Wenzhou could be improved if authorities take into account the relatives’ opinions.
Hao Yansu, head of the Insurance Department of the Central University of Finance, told the People’s Daily that compensation work could use the Yichun plane crash in August as a reference, in which the standard was set at 960,000 yuan for each of the deceased.
Separately, the MOR said that bullet train services in Zhejiang had returned to normal.
Since operations resumed on Monday, a total of 135 trains have traveled past the accident site, transporting 156,253 passengers, with an average occupancy of 117.6 percent, said a press release sent by the MOR to the Global Times.
However, many bloggers, including Ma Hongtao, an anchor on China Central Television, questioned the rush to resume operation before finding out the cause of Saturday’s crash.
A German passenger, who previously worked in a train company, told the Global Times on condition of anonymity that he is still worried about taking the bullet train.
“But I have no choice. The plane ticket is much more expensive, and the bus is time-consuming,” he said. “It is rare that a train stops because of lightning, and the signal system should not be that vulnerable either.”
The official death toll stayed at 39 on Wednesday, when Wenzhou police released the identities of seven passengers killed, after disclosing 28 Tuesday.
At an executive meeting of the State Council, Premier Wen Jiabao said on Wednesday that the investigation must be open and transparent, and the results must be honest and responsible, Xinhua reported.
While offering his “deep condolences” to the victims and their families, Wen called for all-out and unswerving efforts to treat the injured and the victims’ relatives well.
The premier is due to visit the crash site today, according to BBC.