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Concerns always existed that China's high-speed trains were dangerous. Now, those fears have become reality. |
In coastal Wenzhou, in Zhe province, one high-speed train rear-ended another. Four carriage cars fell off a high bridge, and many people were killed or injured.
To avoid this kind of accident in Japan and Europe, restrictions are in place on the number of trains running within a given distance. Such a tragedy is unthinkable in Japan or Europe.
The cause of the accident is not yet clear. We do not know whether the problem was with the train itself or with the signal or control systems. Chinese authorities appear to be in a hurry to resume services, but they should spend all their efforts on discovering the cause of the accident.
China is rushing to build a high-speed rail network using foreign technologies like Japan's Shinkansen (bullet train). Late last month, the 1,318-kilometer-long Jinghu High-Speed Railway connecting Beijing and Shanghai opened to great fanfare.
However, there had been repeated warnings about the safety of China's high-speed trains.
Some said that because the technology was not something China developed over time, but rather an imported hodgepodge, the system was prone to problems. Some also said safety concerns for the tracks and signals were being by-passed in the rush to finish construction.
However, Chinese authorities are stressing that the technology they use, which was originally Japanese or European, was something they "digested and developed by themselves." Now they are moving to file patent applications for those technologies overseas. Some officials even boast that the Chinese high-speed rail "has far surpassed Japan's Shinkansen."
However, former Rail Ministry officials have criticized China's high-speed trains as having no original technology?only things Japan and Germany left behind for safety purposes.
As if to confirm such criticisms, electronic failures have caused repeated problems, like emergency stops, even with the cutting-edge Jinghu rail.
In China, numerous train and bus accidents are caused by a disregard for safety measures.
On July 22, a sleeper-style bus with passengers well over the legal limit caught fire in Henan province, killing 41. The latest train accident occurred on the day that the government issued a decree saying "major accidents must be effectively prevented and adamantly avoided."
China is in the throes of development, and as such, the country is rushing to innovate technology everywhere. The rewards of innovation are substantial, including contributions to the world economy. However, it can be said that the latest accident has revealed the dangers of applying technology in haste.
Chinese authorities must thoroughly investigate this accident, with the help of Japan and Europe, and establish a safety-first principle.
If Chinese officials are unable to do that, they might well give rise to the "China risk" argument that questions the safety of Chinese technology in not only public transport but also in a wide variety of sectors.
--The Asahi Shimbun, July 25