Poor oversight and design caused wreck, report says

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 29 December, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 29 December, 2011, 12:00am


Design flaws and chaotic management were to blame for July's deadly high-speed train collision in Wenzhou, Zhejiang, the long-awaited report on the investigation into the crash said yesterday, while withholding crucial technical details.

The overdue report presented to the State Council said the accident was caused by serious design flaws in control equipment and an improper response to lightning that melted a fuse relating to signalling. Fifty-five people have been named responsible. The conclusions, by an investigative team commissioned by the council, are largely in line with initial findings following the tragedy, which claimed 40 lives and injured nearly 200 others.

The Ministry of Railways mishandled the rescue and failed to address public concerns after the disaster.

The report laid particular blame on former railways minister Liu Zhijun, though he was dismissed months before the crash owing to allegations of corruption. Liu 'has the main leadership responsibility for the accident', it said.

Zhang Shuguang, the ministry's former chief engineer, who was sacked along with Liu, was blamed for approving the use of the train control system without proper testing and evaluation. They will face criminal charges over the crash and the earlier graft allegations. A third person the report focused on was Ma Cheng, president of China Railway Signal and Communication Corporation, who died not long after the accident.

The report listed 54 officials in total who would receive administrative punishments, ranging from internal warnings to removal from their posts. More serious penalties could follow. Railways Minister Sheng Guangzu would have to present a 'thorough self-criticism' to the State Council.

The lightning strike melted a fuse in the traffic control system at Wenzhou South Station. The system's software picked up the malfunction but failed to 'process' it, which turned a red light to green, the report said, without explaining why the software behaved strangely.

The report blames the software issue on chaotic management within the development team.

A top engineer employed by a German company that specialises in train signalling equipment said Beijing should release the technical details if it wanted to sell Chinese high-speed trains to other countries.

'The chance that a lightning strike turns a red light green is as likely as a meteor strike causing extinction,' he said. 'If there is a flaw in the software, the government should publish the source code. They should also publish the code that seals the hole.'

But some industry experts said such details would never be published because they might show that Chinese companies had used foreign company's source codes without really understanding them.

If an international lawsuit alleging copyright infringement was filed, the government would be deeply disgraced. It had long claimed China's high-speed rail network was the product of domestic innovation, they said.

Some relatives of the 40 people who died in the collision said they wanted to see more officials receive severe punishment.