China rail firm boss, blamed for crash, dies of heart attack

BEIJING Tue Aug 23, 2011 9:22am EDT

Rescuers carry out rescue operations after two carriages from a bullet train derailed and fell off a bridge in Wenzhou, Zhejiang province, July 24, 2011. REUTERS/Aly Song

Rescuers carry out rescue operations after two carriages from a bullet train derailed and fell off a bridge in Wenzhou, Zhejiang province, July 24, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Aly Song

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BEIJING (Reuters) - The head of a Chinese railways technology firm blamed for faulty signaling gear that caused a high-speed rail crash last month died of a heart attack while the company was being inspected, Chinese media said Tuesday.

Ma Cheng, the 55-year-old chairman of the board at China Railway Signal & Communication Corp., collapsed at his office Monday as investigators arrived at the company, a report on the website of news magazine Caixin said.

Ma, who was not known to have heart problems but was under great stress, was later pronounced dead at a hospital, the report said, citing unnamed sources.

The July crash between two bullet trains in Wenzhou in eastern China that killed 40 people triggered public fury, unusually bold media coverage and a freeze on approvals for new railway projects.

Officials blamed the accident first on a lightning strike and then on the company's faulty signal technology.

But Chinese media have quoted a senior investigator as saying the crash also exposed management failings and could have been avoided.

Ma, who assumed his position as chairman of the board late last year after serving as general manager, had nearly 20 years of experience in the industry and was known as a leader on signaling technology, the report said.

The official Xinhua news agency, citing the State Administration of Work Safety's spokesman Huang Yi, reported that the probe into the crash was proceeding well, and that people could have confidence in their findings.

"The investigation team is strongly independent, and its members are all experts ... they will carry out the probe in an impartial, scientific and rigorous manner, and will give people a sincere, responsible explanation," Huang said.

"This is an accident which should not have happened and should have been avoided."

The ruling Communist Party has struggled to address public fury over the crash on a high-speed rail network, which was supposed to be one of the country's proudest achievements.

Public anger about the accident escalated into accusations that officials had covered up facts and stifled media coverage to protect the country's ambitious rail expansion plan and the Communist Party's image of unruffled control.

(Reporting by Michael Martina; Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Yoko Nishikawa)

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