A new railway line being built for the August Beijing Olympic Games was a factor in a train crash that left 71 people dead in east China, officials and state media said yesterday.
The pre-dawn Monday crash near Zibo was the most severe in China in over 10 years, also leaving over 400 people injured.
Authorities blamed the accident in Shandong Province on the excessive speed of a train from Beijing to Qingdao — site of the Olympic sailing competition — that derailed and slammed into an oncoming train.
Zhang Mingqi (張鳴起), vice-head of a Cabinet-level investigative team into the accident, said that orders had gone out to drivers to reduce speed on the section of the track where the accident occurred because of construction on the line.
At the site of the crash workers had dug a more than 20m-deep hole that is to serve as the foundations as they link up another railway line from the Shandong capital of Jinan, local officials said.
“This is part of the Jinan-Qingdao line which is being built for the Olympic Games,” Zibo city spokesman Li Chenggang said as he pointed out the construction project at the site of the crash.
“The line is expected to be completed before the Olympic Games and will make travel between Jinan and Qingdao much faster,” Li said.
On April 23, the Jinan Railway Bureau in Shandong printed an order to reduce train speeds on the section of the line under construction to 80kph, Zhang said.
The train was traveling 13kph when it derailed as it rounded a curve near the construction site.
Orders to reduce speed were not properly transmitted to train drivers, the Beijing News said.
But “after this order was issued, no one confirmed that it had been received by the concerned work units [drivers],” the paper said.
Workers on the project, many of whom had assisted in pulling out injured and dead passengers from the Monday wreck, refused to comment on whether their construction work contributed to the wreck.
But Wang Jun (王君), head of the State Administration of Work Safety, said that authorities were also investigating whether the construction work had destabilized the existing track.
“In this investigation we need to clearly grasp factors in several areas, the first is the foundation of the track, whether or not it is stable,” Xinhua news agency quoted Wang as saying.
Three top officials of the Jinan Railway Bureau have already been sacked in the aftermath of the accident.
The Chinese authorities have scrambled to deal with the fall-out from the wreck, with 19 hospitals in Zibo working overtime to deal with the injured.
“Since the accident, the work carried out by Zibo city has gone smoothly,” Liu Xinsheng, vice-secretary of the Chinese Communist Party in Zibo, told reporters on Tuesday.
“Now we face the very hard and difficult task of taking care of all those who have been injured,” Liu said.
The accident was the second rail tragedy in Shandong this year. In January, a high-speed train ploughed into a group of railway workers in the province, killing 18.