A bullet train was struck from behind by another train near Wenzhou in eastern Zhejiang province, killing at least 38 people (including two American citizens) and injuring almost 200. The first train was forced to stop on the tracks due to a power outage and the impact caused six cars to derail, including four that fell from an elevated bridge.
Although Chinese reporters raced to the scene, none of the major state-run newspapers even mentioned the story on their Sunday front pages. A user of Sina Weibo, China’s equivalent of Twitter, first broke the story and increasingly popular social media outlets then provided millions of Chinese with the fastest information and pictures as well as the most poignant and scathing commentaries.
By the time the railway ministry held its first press conference more than 24 hours after the collision, the public had seen not just reports of passengers trapped inside dark trains or images of a mangled car dangling off the bridge — but also bulldozers crushing mangled cars that had fallen to the ground and burying the wreckage on site.
“How can we cover up an accident that the whole world already knew about?” said a defiant railway ministry spokesman Wang Yongping. “They told me they buried the car to facilitate the rescue effort — and I believe this explanation.” Way to go Wang. Burying the rail cars is the best thing to do to help with the rescue effort. Let me introduce you to Santa and the tooth fairy.
Wang was terse when reporters asked him to explain the fact that a toddler girl was being pulled out of the wreckage alive 20 hours after the accident — and long after authorities declared no more signs of life in the trains. “That was a miracle,” he said.
Blaming lightning strike-triggered equipment failure as the cause of the accident based on preliminary investigation, Wang put on a brave face on the safety of China’s controversial high-speed rail.
“Chinese technologies are advanced and we are still confident about that,” he said.
While some state media echoed Wang’s sentiment, many netizens questioned his every statement from the death toll to the cause and called him the face of a ministry mired in allegations of corruption and ineptitude.
“This land is a hotbed for the world’s most sprawling bureaucracy and most cold-blooded officials,” user “chenjie” wrote on Sina Weibo.
Netizens also dug up an old video clip showing the railway ministry’s chief engineer proudly telling state television in 2007 that China had developed modern technologies to ensure bullet trains never rear-end each other.
The quick sacking of three top local railway officials in Shanghai failed to placate the public, either. The announced new Shanghai railway chief prompted more scorn than applause, as the replacement — the railway ministry’s chief dispatcher — was once demoted for his role in another fatal train accident in 2008 that killed 72 people.
In a user-generated opinion poll on Sina Weibo on the government’s handling of the accident, more than 90 percent of the 30,000 respondents chose the option “terrible — it doesn’t treat us as humans.”
Just a few speed wobbles going on with the infrastructure development in China at the moment.