Train chaos blamed on dated plans and bad co-ordination

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 21 February, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 21 February, 2008, 12:00am

An outdated emergency plan and poor co-operation between different tiers of government were partly to blame for the travel fiasco at Guangzhou's railway station in the lead-up to the Lunar New Year, according to the city's mayor.

Guangzhou mayor Zhang Guangning said yesterday that the chaos was among the worst he had experienced since taking up the job five years ago, second only to the Sars epidemic in early 2003. Mr Zhang said when the crisis erupted, authorities realised the city's emergency plan, drafted in 1998, was completely out of date.

'The old plan was only to deal with situations where up to 200,000 people were stranded at the station,' he said. 'But this time we had 3.5 million passengers stranded in the city, 2.5 million of whom were around the station.'

Power failures in Hunan stopped services on the Beijing-Guangzhou rail line for more than 10 days from late January and caused the 'unprecedented public safety crisis' in Guangzhou.

The number of people stranded in the city was equivalent to almost half the population of Hong Kong.

To better address similar crises in the future, Mr Zhang said, the city needed to improve its public emergency plan immediately and to work more efficiently with the Ministry of Railways.

'We [both] need to learn from the lessons this time and find ways for better communication,' he said.

The statement came just days after the railways ministry rejected accusations from delegates to the Guangzhou municipal Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference that it mishandled the transport crisis.

Delegates accused the ministry of bad planning and ineffective management and of impeding relief efforts, worsening the situation for the stranded passengers.

There were also calls for the ministry's leaders to resign.

But ministry spokesman Wang Yongping accused critics of being irresponsible and poorly informed.

Mr Wang said Guangzhou's leadership was behind the central government and opposed the views of Guo Xiling , vice-chairman of the city's CPPCC.

'If vice-chairman Guo's accusations are all true, I will be the first one to resign,' he said.