Monday, April 28, 2008

Passenger train jumps tracks, hit another in China


JINAN, China - A high-speed passenger train jumped its tracks and slammed into another train in eastern China on Monday, killing at least 70 people.
Authorities said more than 400 people were injured, many critically, in China's worst train accident in a decade. The official Xinhua news agency quoted officials as saying human error was to blame for the pre-dawn crash in a rural part of Shandong province.
No foreigners were reported among the dead, but the injured include four French nationals, three of them from a single family. Not other details were available.
An English-language report issued by Xinhua blamed human error for the crash, while its Chinese-language report cited "negligence" but gave no details.
Xinhua did say, however, that two high-ranking railway officials in Shandong had been fired.
The crash happened when a train travelling from Beijing to Qingdao - site of the sailing competition during the Summer Olympics in August - derailed and hit a second passenger train just before dawn.
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Nine of the first train's carriages were knocked into a dirt ditch, Railway Ministry spokesman Wang Yongping said in a statement.
The second train, on its way from Yantai in Shandong to Xuzhou in eastern Jiangsu province, was knocked off its tracks although it stayed upright. News photos showed several of its carriages sitting across the train tracks just outside the city of Zibo.
News photos showed rescuers pulling passengers from a carriage sitting on its side. Survivors bundled in white bed sheets from the sleeper cars stood or sat near the wreckage.
Xinhua said bloodstained sheets and broken thermos flasks could be seen on the ground beside the twisted train cars.
It did not say how many people were on both trains.
"Most passengers were still asleep, but some were standing in the aisle waiting to get off at the Zibo railway station," one passenger, surnamed Zhang, told Xinhua.
"I suddenly felt the train, like a roller coaster, topple ... to one side and all the way to the other side. When it finally went off the tracks, many people fell on me," she said.
Zhang, who was on the train from Bejing, was injured when the train toppled into farmland beside the track. She said local villagers used farm tools to smash train windows to pull out trapped passengers.
"I saw a girl who was trying to help her boyfriend out of the train, but he was dead," Zhang said.
A 38-year-old woman told Xinhua that she and daughter, 13, escaped unhurt by scrambling through a huge crack in the floor of their carriage.
Four French nationals - three from one family - were among the injured.
Xinhua said heavy cranes were being used to move the wrecked rail cars, with workers aiming to reopen the line by early Tuesday, a little more than 24 hours after the accident.
A coach of China's sailing team, Hu Weidong, was among those seriously injured, Dr. Zhang Jun was quoted as saying.
"There were grave injuries to his neck and spine, which we fear could cause paralysis," Zhang told Xinhua.
Hu who was on the train to Qingdao, which is one of China's sailing centres.
Zhang said a 3-year-old boy, Liu Jinhang, was probably the youngest injured, but was in stable condition after being treated for a broken arm.
It was the second major railway accident in Shandong this year. In January, 18 people died when a train hurtling through the night at more than 120 kilometres an hour slammed into a group of about 100 workers carrying out track maintenance near the city of Anqiu.
According to the 163.com news website, it was the worst train accident in China since 1997, when another collision killed 126 people.
Trains are the most popular way to travel in China, and the country's overloaded rail network carried 1.36 billion passengers last year, Xinhua said. That is slightly behind India, which had 1.4 billion passengers last year, according to the Indian National Railways website.
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