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Subway train collision in Shanghai increases Chinese rail safety fears

One train crashed into the rear of another, leaving more than 270 people injured, after a signal failure blamed by state media on malfunctioning signalling systems.

BEIJING // Renewed concerns have been raised over safety standards in China's rail transport network after more than 270 people were injured when two subway trains collided yesterday in Shanghai.

One train crashed into the rear of a stopped train after a signal failure on Shanghai Metro's Line 10, which was opened in April 2010 in time for the Shanghai Expo.

According to China's official Xinhua news agency, about 20 people were in critical condition, some with head injuries, although doctors said the injuries were not life-threatening. Most of those hurt suffered bruises or broken bones, Xinhua reported.

About 500 passengers were evacuated from the line, which runs from Shanghai's Hongqiao International Airport in the west up to the north-east of the city.

According to reports, shortly before the crash staff were directing trains by telephone after the signalling system at one station failed, leaving trains running more slowly than normal. About four hours after the crash, the line was operating again.

In an apology posted on its blog, the company said: "This is the darkest day ever for the Shanghai subway. Regardless of the cause or responsibility, we are stricken with remorse for having caused our passengers injury and losses. We want to deeply, deeply apologise."

Just weeks ago there was public outrage after 40 people were killed in a collision between two high-speed trains near Wenzhou south of Shanghai, with media asking if the pace of growth of China's railway network was too fast and if safety standards were being compromised by corruption or poor-quality workmanship.

Yesterday's crash echoed a 2009 incident on the Shanghai Metro, which saw two trains collide after a systems malfunction.

As with yesterday's acident and the high-speed train crash in July, state media blamed this incident on malfunctions with signalling systems produced by Casco, a joint venture between China Railway Signal and Communication Corporation and the Paris-based transport company Alstom.

In July, a 13-year-old boy was killed at a Beijing underground station after the escalator he was travelling on went into reverse, causing many passengers to fall. That tragedy, too, sparked questions over safety standards on a line that had been open just two years.

China's transport infrastructure has developed rapidly and "sometimes there are bad practices that may not be caught because things have been moving too quickly", said Barbara Siu, an urban transport planning specialist in the department of civil and structural engineering at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University.

"In hardware and software and personnel, all three are not too adequate; there's room for improvement," she said.

"It's not only about the systems, which can be from other countries, but sometimes the people are not very well trained.

"Even with a very advanced system, they are not operated safely, or there is some malpractice. It may cause safety problems."

China is building more than 20 metro systems in cities across the country, and extending established underground networks in major cities including Beijing, where the complex of lines is among the five longest in the world.

The underground networks are deemed necessary to relieve congestion brought about by heavy growth in car ownership - China is now the biggest car market in the world - and the 10 million plus annual increase in China's urban population.

In addition, investments in transport and other forms of infrastructure are seen as key to maintaining China's near double-digit economic growth.

 

dbardsley@thenational.ae

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