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China train disaster blamed on speeding

BEIJING (Reuters) - China on Tuesday blamed excessive speed for the country’s worst train accident in more than a decade that killed at least 70 people.

Two trains slammed into each other near Zibo in the eastern province of Shandong on Monday. Hundreds of passengers are in hospitals across the area and, with about 70 in a critical condition, the number of dead could rise.

The official Xinhua news agency quoted Wang Jun, head of the National Safety Authority, as saying that preliminary investigations indicated one train was involved in “serious excessive speeding”.

Wang said the train was traveling at 131 kph (81 mph) at the time of the accident, on a section of line where the speed limit was 80 kph (49 mph), Xinhua reported.

“This fully exposes that an understanding of work safety is not in place in some railway operating businesses,” Wang said.

Of the dead, 26 had so far been identified, Xinhua said. It did not give details.

China’s worst train accident since 1997 came as the government strives to make the country secure for the Beijing Olympics in August.

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Local railway officials have already been sacked and state media reported that a senior prosecutor had gone to the scene to investigate possible dereliction of duty.

More than 1,200 paramilitary troops, police and officials had also gathered to help the rescue and “maintain order”, the Ta Kung Pao, a mainland-run Hong Kong newspaper, reported.

Zhang Lin, an athlete who was on the train from Beijing to the Shandong coastal city Qingdao, said she was jolted awake early on Monday morning and thrown out of the carriage window by the force of the crash, the China Daily reported.

The carriage came to rest inches from her feet.

“One more roll by the carriages could have crushed me,” she told the paper from hospital, where she is being treated for fractures and bruising. “From that moment on, I dare not close my eyes.”

Reporting by Chris Buckley; Editing by Nick Macfie