3 die in collapse at Yangmingtan Bridge, Harbin

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 25 August, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 25 August, 2012, 4:14am


Three people were killed and five injured yesterday when an approach ramp on the longest bridge in northern China collapsed after only nine months in operation.

Four trucks loaded with construction materials were on the ramp when the 100-metre section of the Yangmingtan Bridge in Harbin , Heilongjiang province, broke off and landed on a footpath at about 5am.

The city government said two of the injured were in critical condition in hospital.

The 15.4 kilometre suspension bridge, which crosses Yangmingtan Island in the Songhua River, is the nation's longest bridge north of the Yangtze River. Construction began at the end of 2009 and was finished in just 18 months, China News Service reported yesterday. It opened to traffic in November.

Huang Yi , State Administration of Work Safety chief engineer, told a press conference in Beijing yesterday that he had suspicions about the quality of construction.

"I think [if the bridge] snapped after only about a year in operation, there must be some problems," he said. "But the problems can only be confirmed after an investigation. Once there are conclusions, we will ask the local investigative team to publish the results promptly."

Mainland media speculated that the quality of construction might have been compromised in the rush to meet a tight deadline.

Even though China has built more large bridges than any other country in recent decades, thanks to the rapid development of its infrastructure, finishing such a big project in such a short time frame had bettered even the aggressive domestic standard, the China News Service reported.

The construction of the Yangmingtan Bridge was lauded by state media as a manifestation of "Harbin speed" and a "Harbin miracle". One of its main contractors, China Railway 13th Bureau Group, pitched the bridge as a candidate for this year's Luban Prize, the highest award for building projects on the mainland.

An investigator said the bridge had collapsed because it had been overloaded.

Professor Wang Zonglin , a bridge design and construction expert at Harbin Institute of Technology's school of transport science and engineering, said yesterday that he and other members of an investigative panel had completed a preliminary investigation at the site and had found no quality problems on the bridge.

Wang said each of the trucks that fell had been carrying more than 120 tonnes of cargo and their combined weight was nearly 500 tonnes. But the ramp's designed load was only 55 tonnes at most.

"It's almost 10 times the design. It is back-breaking," he said.

Wang said the technical experts on the investigative panel had concluded that the collapse was caused by overloaded trucks and their owners should take the biggest blame.

He said the traffic authorities should also be held responsible because they had allowed the overloaded vehicles to get onto the bridge.

"The accident happened very early in the morning, a time with the weakest police inspection," he added.

Bridge safety expert Dan Danhui, an associate professor at Tongji University in Shanghai, said that it usually took two to three years to build such a long bridge and the construction at Yangmingtan was "indeed a bit of rush".

"It is a very rare incident to see four extremely overloaded trucks on a single section of the ramp. But in China, bridge designers must consider such extreme events because every truck running in this country is overloaded," he said. "They must make sure that the bridge will not only stand on paper, but also in real life.

"We also need to probe some technical questions, such as why the ramp snapped at both ends, which could be possible locations that designers need to strengthen in the future."

Harbin residents said they hoped for a comprehensive investigation. A manager at the Old Fisherman Stew, a restaurant near the bridge, said she was concerned about residents' safety after hearing about the collapse.