After an accident killing at least 39 people on its new high speed rail system, China has taken the unusual step of burying the wrecked carriages, claiming it needs to protect “national level” technology from being stolen by foreigners, despite widespread accusations that it stole the technology from them in the first place – and the suspicion that it is keen to conceal whatever caused the accident.
Chinese and outsiders alike suspect the authorities are literally covering up the real cause of the accident, though the government has vacillated between calling the wrecked trains “mere scrap metal” and suggesting they contain secret technology the Japanese or others might try to steal back from them.
Adding to the dismay, although 39 bodies have been recovered from the wrecks, many still remain missing and the government itself admits the death toll will rise – bereaved relatives accuse the government of cynically burying them along with the wrecks.
What happened to painstakingly investigating the cause of the accident, or for that matter properly disposing of the ruined trains, is not clear.
The earlier explanation that a lightning strike caused the crash seems to have been dropped, and the Chinese government’s main response has been to simply sack various officials involved in managing the line, to halt service on some lines and order nationwide safety checks, although service on the accident stricken line resumed rapidly.
Shares in China’s rail industries have plummeted after the accident, whilst Taiwan’s high speed rail system has been at pains to stress that its system is the same one Japan uses and is thus completely safe.
Aside from issues over technology theft and safety, there has also been some long-standing concern amongst critics of the system that the line itself is useless due to bad station placement and little more than a failed prestige project – one passenger explains his misgivings after riding it:
“I tried using it instead of the bus to get from Zhuhai to Guangzhou, as it takes 30 minutes rather than 2 hours 30 minutes. But even a month after opening there are no maps of where the stations are on the line’s site.
I had to take a taxi to the station, it took 20 minutes and I found myself at the station, out in the middle of nowhere.
Even when I got to Guangzhou, I had to take a 40 minute ride on the subway to get to the city centre. In the end it took the same amount of time as the bus, which was much cheaper. It’s putting the cart before the horse.”
Whilst not exactly shaping up to be a paragon of safety, the competition in this arena is in any case less than fierce – a few days after the accident, a Henan bus exploded killing at least 41 people in a fiery inferno. Authorities suspect the bus had been carrying hazardous materials.
Under the circumstances, it seems only a matter of time before exploding pirated trains hit the headlines.