A bullet train crashed into another high-speed train in eastern China, killing at least 35 people, injuring 191 others and once again raising safety concerns about the country’s fast-expanding rail network.
The first train was travelling south from the Zhejiang provincial capital of Hangzhou last night when it lost power in a lightning strike and stalled, before being hit from behind by the second train in Wenzhou city, the official Xinhua News Agency said.
The first four carriages of the moving train fell about 65 to 100 feet off the viaduct onto the ground below. One carriage ended up in a vertical position, leaning against the viaduct.
The Ministry of Railways said in a statement today that the first four carriages of the moving train and the last two carriages of the stalled train derailed.
It was the first derailment on China’s high-speed rail network since the country launched bullet trains with a top speed of 155mph in 2007, the China Daily reported.
It is an embarrassment for China, which plans to massively expand its bullet train network to link together its far-flung regions and show off its rising wealth and technological prowess. It is also trying to sell its trains to Latin America and the Middle East.
Last month, it launched the Beijing to Shanghai high-speed line, whose trains can travel at a top speed of 186mph. The speed was cut from the originally planned 217mph after questions were raised about safety.
In less than four weeks of operation, power outages and other malfunctions have plagued the showcase 820-mile line. The Railways Ministry has apologised for the problems and said that summer thunderstorms and winds were the cause in some cases.
A total of 35 people died in last night’s accident, including two foreigners, whose nationalities were unclear, said an official in the Zhejiang provincial emergency office. A further 191 people were being treated at hospitals.
The second train had left Beijing and both trains were destined for Fuzhou in eastern Fujian province. Wang said it was unclear how long the first train had sat on the track before being struck.
Early today, Chinese President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao had called for an all-out effort to rescue passengers still trapped in the wreckage hours after the collision, Xinhua said. China Central Television later said the search-and-rescue operation had ended by 4am.
The Wenzhou city government said more than 1,000 people participated in the rescue operation.
About 1,500 passengers were taken to a middle school, and more than 500 residents had given blood after appeals from the local blood bank, which said many of the injured needed transfusions, CCTV reported.
It was China’s worst train accident since April 2008, when a train travelling from Beijing to the eastern coastal city of Qingdao derailed and crashed into another train, leaving 72 dead and another 416 injured.
Minister of Railways Sheng Guangzu, who rushed to the scene, ordered an in-depth investigation of the accident.