When Chinese officials first announced the cause of Saturday’s bullet train accident, they said it was caused by a freak lightning strike.
Now there’s a different narrative appearing in Chinese media, and we can’t help pointing it out—mostly because if you blink, you might miss it.
Via Shanghai Daily:
Beijing Century and Henan Splendor are being questioned about the quality of their products as a 20-word statement from the railway ministry said signal operations were to blame for the accident that so far has killed 39 people.
This admission, pithy though it may be, is pretty novel for the Rail Ministry. They’re used to having the freedom to spread propaganda about the wonders of China’s train system, and telling stories of young, brave train conductors that represent the every man.
Rail Ministry Spokesman Wang Yongping recently said that China’s bullet trains were so superior to Japan’s Shinkasen that they could not “be mentioned in the same breath.”
After this accident though, no one is having it. When a 5 year-old girl was found alive among the wreckage after officials declared the search and rescue mission over, Wang announced that it was a “miracle.” Journalists responded angrily: “It is NOT a miracle!” they yelled, according to China Media Project.
Now researchers involved with the train system’s design are taking this as an opportunity to speak out.
Jian (Shuiseng), one of the members of the research team on the Beijing-Shanghai high-speed railway, told China Times that repeated power failures on the 221 billion yuan (US$34.26 billion) line are the result of several inadequate systems…All the grid problems occurred after the overhead contact line system, which provides power to the trains, went down…China has neglected design problems including inadequate planning for inclement weather along the route, Jian was cited as saying.
He added there is also no way the back-up power supply system on the trains can operate for 120 minutes as authorities have claimed.
“In theory, the back-up power can allow a train to travel 600 kilometers,” Jian told the newspaper. “However, when a train needs to run at a speed of 300 kilometers per hour, the back-up supply just can’t provide that much energy.”
Those problems pale in comparison to what’s wrong with the track bed, though, said Jian. European track beds rest on gravel, they also use rivets to prevent tracks from expanding or contracting in extreme temperatures. In China, tracks lie on springs to offset the impact from a running train. This is a method that is still being experimented with in Germany. Jian says that over time, springs can develop microsopic cracks, causing the entire structure to fracture.
Meanwhile, in the last two trading days, rail stocks have plummeted 60% on the Shanghai stock exchange, reports China Daily. Also, critics are calling the Rail Ministry’s spending into question. One brokerage firm estimates that continued building could cost up to $131.79 billion.
That sounds a litte low for a Ministry that is already $300 billion in debt after the first quarter of this year.