Survivors of last month's high-speed-rail crash in Wenzhou, Zhejiang province, claim officials are frustrating their fight for compensation and using bullying tactics to force them into deals.
Injured survivors - dozens of whom remain in several of the city's hospitals - complain that Ministry of Railways officials are handling the compensation process in an arbitrary and opaque manner, leaving them unsure of their entitlements and fearful of being underpaid.
'I feel they are just trying to pay us as little as they can get away with,' Lin Kebo, 45, from Fujian province, said. 'Each time my wife meets officials they produce a figure, but they cannot explain how that figure was calculated. Each time they say it is their highest possible offer, but when we don't sign they come back the next time with a higher offer.
'The officials can only explain that the increase is due to a new directive from above. Can there really be so many directives?'
Lin, like many of the injured, remains bed-ridden in Wenzhou No 2 People's Hospital. He said only injured victims' closest relatives were allowed into the negotiating room, leaving them without access to independent advice or the chance to verify consistency in the deals.
'Our families have to sneak around hospitals comparing their various offers to see if what we are getting is fair,' he said. 'There are huge differences in what is being offered, and it seems to have more to do with how much noise people make than the extent of their injuries.'
The crash occurred on the night of July 23, when the D301 high-speed train from Beijing to Fuzhou, the capital of Fujian, ploughed into the back of the slow-moving or stalled D3115 Hangzhou-to-Fuzhou train on a viaduct. It is the worst train crash on the mainland's high-speed network since the trains were introduced in 2007. At least 40 people died from the crash, with a further 177 injured, according to the official count.
'I have very little movement in my hips and that is certain to affect my ability to keep providing for my family,' Lin said. 'They told my wife this was a one-time payment only and they would not be responsible for any future claims. I think it's ridiculous.'
In the bed next to Lin, Zhejiang native Su Zhongpu said he felt well enough to check out of the hospital, but had been ordered to remain until compensation negotiations were completed.
'The doctors aren't authorised to discharge us until we sign the compensation agreement,' said Su, 20. 'My wife wouldn't agree because they refuse to cover our 800 yuan (HK$970) travel expenses to get back home.'
Su said the ministry's initial offer to his wife of 10,000 yuan increased to 39,800 yuan at the last meeting on Monday.
'The official actually told her, 'If you are not happy you can continue living in the hospital',' Su said. 'Do they think we enjoy staying in a hospital ward?'
Luo Renqin, 43, who has back problems, internal injuries and a damaged right eye, said officials tried to persuade him to return to Fujian. 'They told me I looked fine and should check myself out or transfer to a hospital back home,' he said. 'But can they guarantee my safety if I travel? Even the doctors say it is too risky. I think the officials just want to get me off their books.'
A spokesman for the Wenzhou government said he could not comment on the negotiations. The Shanghai Bureau of Railways did not respond to requests for comment.
Relatives of 40 people who died in the crash were offered a one-off payment of 915,000 yuan. According to mainland media reports earlier this week, relatives of all but five of the victims had signed the deal.