Chinese netizens criticize train crash report
BEIJING—Chinese Internet users accused the government Thursday of failing to take responsibility for a deadly bullet train crash after it said 54 officials were to blame but none would face criminal charges.
"It looks like they found some scapegoats to fire," said a note posted on the popular Sina Weibo microblogging service.
The government said Wednesday that design flaws and mismanagement caused the July 23 crash that killed 40 people and ignited a public outcry about the high costs and dangers of such prestige projects. It said officials including a former railway minister who had been fired before the crash were to blame and would face reprimands and demotions.
Thousands of postings on microblogs and Internet bulletin boards criticized the penalties as too mild. They said too few senior figures were held accountable for the disaster near the city of Wenzhou, which also injured 177 people.
Before the crash, the bullet train network enjoyed support from Communist Party leaders and a political status on par with China's manned space program.
Since then, Chinese leaders have distanced themselves from it, scaling back expansion plans for the multibillion-dollar bullet train and overall construction spending on China's rail network, the world's largest.
Ahead of the crash report, even normally docile state media expressed skepticism about the outcome of the investigation. Those sentiments grew after the report, due Nov. 20 under the government's own rules, was delayed without explanation.
The report affirmed earlier government accounts that a lightning strike caused one bullet train to stall and then a sensor failure and missteps by train controllers allowed a second train to keep moving on the same track and slam into it.
Among those blamed were a former railway minister, Liu Zhijun, who spearheaded the bullet train's construction, and the ministry's chief engineer. Both were detained in an unrelated corruption investigation months before the crash.
"Liu Zhijun has been in jail. To claim someone in jail is guilty will spare other people. Is that too hard to understand?" said a note on Sina Weibo signed Yizhidouhuai, or "Always Bad."
Also blamed was the general manager of the company that made the sensor. He died of a heart attack in August while talking to investigators.
The report promised improved safety and oversight of technology development but gave no details on planned changes.
The bullet train system, based on German and Japanese technology, was meant to showcase China's rising technical prowess but has suffered embarrassing equipment failures and other setbacks.
On Thursday, a man was struck by a bullet train and killed near the southeastern city of Xiamen after he climbed over a safety barrier and tried to cross the tracks, the official Xinhua News Agency reported. It said the train halted for 18 minutes and then continued on to Xiamen with a "bloody dent on the front of the locomotive."
Even before the July crash, critics complained authorities spent too much on high-speed lines while failing to invest enough in expanding cheaper, slower routes to serve China's poor majority.
Some online comments Thursday suggested sarcastically that authorities who need to deflect blame should have cited 19th century steam engine pioneer James Watt or imperial-era officials who promoted railway development.
"The black hand behind the curtain was anti-China forces based overseas, and the leader of them is called Watt," said a note on Sina Weibo. "Why did you invent the steam engine?!"