China's train crash caused by defective lights

08:34, July 29, 2011      

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Defective signaling equipment and human error were factors contributing to China's most serious rail accident since 2008, investigators said yesterday.

An ongoing investigation had uncovered two problems so far, said An Lusheng, the newly appointed chief of the Shanghai Railway Bureau - a defective signaling system and dispatchers who did not send any warnings after a lightning strike.

He said a signal that should have turned red after lightning hit the train that stalled remained green, and rail staff then failed to see something was amiss.

His comments were in a statement released after a meeting in Wenzhou, Zhejiang Province, the site of the accident.

The Shanghai bureau operates and supervises train services in Shanghai and neighboring provinces, including Zhejiang.

The investigation found that signaling equipment at Wenzhou South Railway Station, where the trains were heading, had "serious flaws in the design," the director said. But the design faults were compounded by human mistakes.

"After the lightning strike caused a failure, an interval signal machine that should have shown a red light mistakenly upgraded it to a green light instead," said An. He was appointed bureau director to replace Long Jing who was sacked after the crash along with two other top bureau officials.

A red light is a warning to drivers and dispatch staff that another train is dangerously close and that adjustments need to be made.

The green light led the driver of the D301 train, Pan Yiheng, to believe the track ahead was clear.

He was killed in the collision but had managed to trigger the emergency brake when he saw the stationary D3115 train on the track. But it was too late, and the first four cars of his train derailed after his train slammed into the D3115, whose last two carriages then derailed.

The trains each had 16 carriages. The D3115 was carrying 1,072 passengers and the D301 558.

The investigation showed that dispatch staff at Wenzhou had failed to realize in time there was a problem to take action that could have prevented the accident, An said.

The accident had shown that China's railway services had safety loopholes and that questions remained over the quality of facilities, training and staff competence, and emergency response mechanisms, he said.

An said the signaling system was put into use in September 2009.

The signal equipment designer, Beijing National Railway Research & Design Institute of Signals and Communications Co Ltd, in a rare admission of responsibility for a disaster, issued an apology yesterday, acknowledging it was the source of the deadly flaw. It said it would "face up to shouldering responsibility, and accept any punishment that is due, and will strictly undertake pursuing culpability of those responsible."

Investigators said they would release their findings in mid-September.

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