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Rail Policy - Arrogant and Indifferent

Call for NPC to Launch Special Investigation into Wenzhou Train Disaster
By Sun Le(孙乐), deputy opinion editor with EO Online
July 26, 2011
Economic Observer Online

Professor He Weifang (贺卫方), from the law school at Peking University, recently called on the National People’s Congress (NPC) to establish a special committee to investigate and conduct public hearings into the Wenzhou train accident. We want to second the professor’s call.

Though the State Council has already established a special accident investigation team and tasked it with reporting on the cause of the accident, the technical experts on this team are mainly dran from the ministry of railways, which raises doubts about the independence and openness of the investigation.

We want a fair result and to do that we need a fair investigation procedure. The Investigation team should be fully independent from the government body responsible for the crash. A truly independent team should also consult with independent third party experts, perhaps from abroad, to ensure the results of the investigation are both transparent and fair.

According to article 71 of China’s constitution, the NPC is entitled to form a special investigation committee under certain circumstances. Given that the Wenzhou disaster has become such a focus of public attention, the NPC should step up and exercise its mandate to effectively protect the interests of the people.

We believe that the accident is not simply a “natural disasters”, rather a “man-made” one. We demand to know the truth. We want to know why both the CTCS and LKJ automatic control system along with the manual fall-back system all failed at the same time; we want to know who gave the command to stop the search and rescue; we want to know who ordered the line reopened when the cause of accident itself were still unknown.

Furthermore, the investigation cannot just be involved with the accident itself; it should be a full investigation on the whole projects of high-speed railways.

The NPC panel should hold public hearings aimed at uncovering the depth of existing problems. Only in this way, can the truth be revealed, and lack of trust in the country’s high-speed railway system be restored.

We call on the NPC to exercise their right to initiate a special investigative procedure, to live up to its title of being a “National People’s Congress”. Then government can regain the trust of the people by ensuring the safety and security of rail travel.

 Original article: [Chinese

The Arrogance of China's Rail Leaders
By Liu Weixun (刘伟勋), a reporter with the EO’s corporation section
July 26, 2011
Economic Observer Online

Although we can’t make sweeping judgments and condemn the entire high-speed network just because of an accident that is still under investigation, the train crash that happened on Saturday has already exposed flaws in the technology, management, information disclosure and rescue on the high-speed railway. Unless we eradicate these flaws, even without lightning, there may still be disasters.

The rapid construction of high-speed rail lines during the former rail minister’s office term also planted the seeds for hidden danger.

High-speed railway construction is a high-tech and capital-intensive industry, and it has its own laws of development. Everything should be done in a meticulous manner. There are no shortcuts.

But with a closed and non-transparent railway system, China’s railways tried to break the rules and follow an unconventional path. When there wasn’t enough capital, the ministry tried to get loans from the banks regardless of the cost. When technology was lacking, it imported it from other countries. In order to beat time, the ministry compressed construction periods and worked overtime.

The 1,318 km long Beijing to Shanghai railway was a miracle: the normal construction period is five to six years, but actual construction only took 38 months.

Due to its unusually rapid construction, China’s rail system did not apply the technology thoroughly; the construction didn’t follow the established procedures step by step. The hidden dangers in high-speed rail, including technological risks, under-the-table deals and lack of supervision should have been addressed long ago.

The most basic question is: what kind of high-speed railway do we need and what steps should we take to build it? The answer to these questions is that we need to respect the natural laws of construction instead of the will and preference of particular officials. 

Original article: [Chinese]

Railway Ministry’s Disrespect For Human Lives
By Hu Jiayuan (胡家源), an editor with the EO’s news section 
July 26, 2011
Economic Observer Online

In the aftermath of Saturday’s train crash, the Ministry of Railway showed a lack of respect for the dead. A two-year old girl was pulled alive from the crushed carriage after the ministry called off the rescue operation. The spokesperson said that the survival of the little girl was “a miracle of life”. The ministry hadn’t even asked whether there were moral or medical grounds for ending the rescue operation so quickly.

The ministry has no respect for the general public. The operation of the railway system, from the introduction of overseas technology to the award of contracts, from the administration of personnel to the fare system, is opaque to the public. 
The ministry has no respect for railway workers. In 2010, the average annual income of railway workers was only 40,000 yuan, far below the national average.

Meanwhile, the ministry has been spending large sums of money on technology and equipment. The suppliers of costly devices such as signaling mechanisms, lightning protection systems, and emergency brakes were often chosen by non-transparent bidding mechanisms that could be manipulated by those with an interest in winning contracts.

 Original article: [Chinese]

“Four Nos” Policy Would Result in Traffic Chaos in Beijing
By Wang Lei (汪雷), senior editor with EO Online 
July 25, 2011
Economic Observer Online

The Wenzhou train disaster has both central and local government authorities on high alert and public transportation safety has suddenly become an issue of urgent importance.

The Beijing Times reported on Monday that the Beijing government had  held an emergency meeting recently and quoted the city's Vice-mayor Gou Zhongwen (苟仲文) on the need to implement strict safety requirements in regard to the running of the city's subway system, namely - “the subway carriage should not overloaded, platforms not overcrowded, the corridors should not be crowded and the lifts should not be overloaded.”

The author argues that this four “Nos” policy is unrealistic and impossible to carry out. Once it carried out, it would lead to traffic chaos for Beijing.

At present, Beijing’s subway transport capacity has already reached its limit. The Beijing Subway Company’s statistics showed that on Jul 15, a record 6.2 million passenger trips were made on all 12 lines of the city's subway system.

While if these four requirements were followed, you could imagine the scene: most of passengers would be forced to queue outside the entrance to the subway stations.

This would lead to a chain reaction. First, the entrance itself wouldn’t be able to hold so many people, and the queue would overflow to the streets, which would cause traffic chaos. Secondly, most of people would arrive late for work due to the longer waiting time, which would affect the normal work of many enterprises and government departments. Finally, it might cause the overloading of other forms of public transports. Overall, it would affect people’s everyday life and work and result in the whole city becoming a traffic nightmare.

Fortunately, no clear timetable was provided when this naive “four nos” order was passed down and we hope that they don't actually try to carry it out.

Original article: [Chinese]

Railway Officials Care More For Careers Than Passengers
By Xiao Shu (笑蜀), a veteran columnist for Southern Weekend
July 25, 2011
Economic Observer Online

In 2009 when Taiwan was hit by a huge flood, Ma Ying-jeou went deep into the flood-stricken areas to oversee the rescue efforts. Still, he was accused of failing to arrive at the scene immediately. Ma had to remove the head of the executive branch, the House of Administration, in order to appease the indignant public.

Ma’s case contrasts strikingly with the arrogant attitude of China’s Ministry of Railway after Saturday’s train crash. Pictures show that the railways minister originally took up residence in a high-end air-conditioned hotel room while directing the rescue efforts. His entourage was also living in fancy hotels.

A little girl was found alive soon after the the ministry called off the rescue. Why were they in such a hurry? One train driver offered an answer: these officials were anxious get trains running again because the gravity of the disaster is measured by the length of time that the services were suspended.  Apparently in their minds, holding on to their positions is more important than saving lives.

In China, it’s common to see extravagant officials who attempts to cover up the truth to protect their careers. The lack of concern for victims is the biggest problem with rescue operations in China now.

Original article: [Chinese]

“Miracles” of the Railway Ministry’s Making
By Chen Tairan (陈泰然), a columnist for the Economic Observer Online
July 25, 2011
Economic Observer Online

Around twenty hours after the two high-speed trains collided, the Minstry of Railways announced there were no more signs of life, stopped the search-and-rescue operation and began to clean up the site of the collision. However, six hours later, a little girl was found alive in the wreckage.

When asked to explain why a survivor was found from a wreckage with no signs of life, the spokesman of the Ministry of Railways said: “It was a miracle.”

More “miraculous” was the announcement that “the train and line could be reopened in 7pm” - about 20 hours after the accident.

According to news report so far, the first train stopped because of a lightning strike and the second train didn’t receive the information that the first train had stopped. That is to say, the problem wasn’t the lightning strike, but a problem with the control system.

 The Ministry of Railways has said they are still investigating the main cause of the accident. Given that the reliability of the emergency brake system still hasn’t been established, the real “miracle” is the railway operators’ disregard for human life in reopening the line. 

 Original article: [Chinese]


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