BEIJING – The deadly high-speed train crash that killed at least 40 passengers in July was “a completely avoidable accident” and “should not have happened”.
That’s what the leader of a team looking into the crash said on Thursday.
Speaking at the team’s third full meeting, Luo Lin, the team leader and minister of the State Administration of Work Safety, said that the initial investigation has exposed design defects that are likely to have both caused equipment failures and the accident itself.
He also said the crash has revealed flaws in the railway’s emergency plans.
The team’s initial conclusion was reached in part through a series of experiments. One of them attempted to simulate what exactly happened when one high-speed train crashed into the back of another near Wenzhou, Zhejiang province, on July 23, killing 40 passengers and injuring nearly 200 others.
“In the experiment, we used a high-speed train that is similar to the one that crashed,” a group of experts on the team wrote in a statement. “We tried to simulate what the signaling equipment was doing, what was happening inside the carriages and what the weather conditions were at that time.”
The experts in the group said they found the test to be “very useful”.
Hoping to make the investigation more credible, the State Council, China’s Cabinet, reshuffled the members of the investigation team on Wednesday, taking two railway officials off of it and adding seven representatives of various other departments.
Peng Kaizhou, vice-minister of railways, and Chen Lanhua, director of the railway ministry’s safety supervision department, were removed from the team in response to the public’s calls for the investigation to be conducted without help from representatives of the railway system.
The initial composition of the investigation team was announced on July 28, five days after the accident.
The reshuffle, along with other measures taken to make the investigation go more smoothly and railways safer, was meant to “restructure the probe panel, improve the investigation system and make the work more authoritative and credible”, according to a statement released by the State Council.
Following the rearrangement, nearly half of the 22 seats in the team’s investigation group will be taken by officials from the State Administration of Work Safety and the local government in Zhejiang province. The rest will be filled by officials from other interested parties both inside and outside the government, including the Ministry of Supervision, the State Electricity Regulatory Commission, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology and the China International Engineering Consulting Corp.
Ji Jialun, a transportation professor at Beijing Jiaotong University and member of the investigation team’s expert panel, declined to comment on the rearrangement, saying that those on the probe team aren’t allowed to take part in media interviews.
Zhao Jian, another transportation professor at Beijing Jiaotong University, said the new arrangement reflects the interests of various groups connected in some way to the accident and ensures that those with the greatest interest in it will have a say in how the investigation is conducted.
Wang Baoming, an expert at the Chinese Academy of Governance, echoed Zhao’s opinion, adding that it might be better to invite more technology specialists into the team, which is now mostly composed of officials from government departments.
One survivor of the Wenzhou crash, who goes by the name Yuan Xiaoyan on his micro blog, said the rearrangement shows that the government is serious about conducting a transparent investigation. He said he hopes there will soon be a way for the public to access information from the investigation more quickly.