BEIJING (Reuters) - At least 32 people died when a high-speed train smashed into a stalled train in China’s eastern Zhejiang province Saturday, state media said, raising new questions about the safety of the fast-growing rail network.
The accident occurred on a bridge near the city of Wenzhou after the first train lost power due to a lightning strike and a bullet train following behind crashed into it, state television said.
The total power failure rendered useless an electronic safety system designed to warn following trains of stalled trains on the tracks up ahead, and automatically halt them before a collision can occur, the report added.
It showed one or possibly two carriages on the ground under the bridge, with another hanging above it. Several other carriages derailed in the accident near Wenzhou, some 860 miles south of Beijing.
More than 200 people have been taken to hospital, the official Xinhua news agency added.
One train was heading from Beijing to the coastal city of Fuzhou, the other was running from Zhejiang provincial capital Hangzhou, also to Fuzhou.
“The train suddenly shook violently, casting luggage all around,” Xinhua quoted survivor Liu Hongtao as saying.
“Passengers cried for help but no crew responded.”
State television broadcast appeals for people not involved in the rescue effort to stay away, saying they were hampering efforts to get survivors out of the wrecked carriages and to hospital.
The Railway Ministry has ordered emergency safety checks on the country’s trains, Xinhua added.
Users on China’s popular Twitter-like microblogging service Weibo spread appeals for people to donate blood and help look for lost relatives and friends.
“I‘m looking for Lu Haitian who was in carriage 3. Please send along any clues you have!” wrote “Noodle Kung-fu.”
Others, though, criticized the safety record of China’s much-hyped high-speed trains.
The flagship Beijing-Shanghai high-speed rail line has been plagued by power outages, leaving passengers stranded on stuffy trains for hours at least three times since opening a month ago.
“China’s high-speed trains are rubbish! They have frequent accidents and they’ve only been in service a few years,” wrote “I believe in snow.”
“We should learn from Japan. They’ve been running them for years with no problems.”
The government has spent billions of dollars improving the railway network of the world’s most populous country and has said it plans to spend $120 billion a year for several years on railway construction.
The Beijing-Shanghai link is the latest and most feted segment of a network the government hopes will stretch over 45,000 km (28,000 miles) by the end of 2015.
But the vast network has been hit by a series of scandals in addition to the safety incidents of the past few months. Three railway officials have been investigated for corruption so far this year, according to local media reports.
In February, Liu Zhijun was sacked as railways minister for “serious disciplinary violations.” He had led the rail sector’s investment drive over the past decade.
China’s last major train disaster was in 2008, when an express train traveling from Beijing to the eastern coastal city of Qingdao derailed and collided with another train, killing 72 and injuring 416 people.
China South Locomotive and Rolling Stock Corp Ltd (CSR)
and China North Locomotive and Rolling Stock Corp Ltd are the dominant train makers in China.
Additional reporting by Jacqueline Wong and Jason Subler in Shanghai; Editing by Sophie Hares