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Train crash shakes confidence in train travel

(Xinhua)

10:43, August 07, 2011

Last month's fatal train crash has shaken the country, not only causing the loss of lives and delayed and unclear explanations, but also undermining people's confidence in the rail system.

Bai Ruoxue stands in line at the bus station of Fuzhou, capital city of eastern Fujian province, waiting to buy a ticket to her hometown of Zhaoan, in the southernmost part of the province. She decided to take the bus despite the fact that it takes three hours longer than the bullet train.

"I took train all the time in the past," said the 20-year-old college student. "I thought trains were safe and fast." But after the tragic train collision on July 23, Bai swore not to take bullet trains.

"My mom called me before I came here and told me that if I had to take the bullet train, just let her know, so she could burn incense and pray," Bai said.

Fuzhou was the terminal for trains D301 and D3115, the two trains involved in the accident that cost 40 people their lives.

Casual observation of a passing bullet train in the area reveals that it's not yet back to business as usual.

On July 27, a journalist with the Jiefang Daily reported a half-empty train heading from Shanghai to Wenzhou, Zhejiang province, where the crash occurred.

"Many of the carriages had just two or three passengers," said the reporter, Zhu Chen.

Prior to the accident, a train running at this time was always full, said train attendant Quan Hongjiao.

While trains were once a reflexive choice, the accident has caused many people to consciously choose not to take them.

"Less people are choosing to ride trains on their tours," said a man surnamed Hao, a manager with Beijing Youth Travel Service Co.

But Wang Ting, a publicity official for the Fuzhou Railway Station, said the number of passengers began to rebound in the last couple of days, and even suggested that the amount of passengers was about the same as it had been before the accident, though she refused to give precise numbers, saying regulations don't permit her to do so.

Some passengers complained, saying they have no choice but to take the train.

"I'd rather not take the train, but I certainly can't quit my job," said Zhang Xiang in Fuzhou, who works in the city of Ningbo in Zhejiang. "I was afraid during the ride and dared not close my eyes to sleep," he said.

A photo forwarded by netizens on China's most popular microblog website, weibo.com, captioned "brother safety," showed a man in Shanghai wearing a helmet and seat belt while on the bullet train. And there's more, in front of him he had a bottle of medicine, drug powder for contusions, and a flashlight.

Of course, most recognized the humor of the photo, but nonetheless, some people readily admit that the train crash has changed their habits.

Yan Xuedong specifically booked a ticket in the middle of the train, where he gauged his survival chances would be best. "I think the carriages in the middle might be safer," he said.

Many now board trains somberly, no longer taking their safety for granted. A college student in Zhejiang surnamed Zhang said that since the accident he remains in contact with his family while on the train.

"Yes, things have changed. Now I send a text message to my parents when I get on the train and tell them the train's number, and when I arrive I let them know I made it safely," he said.

Zhang isn't alone in taking these steps. A Xinhua reporter at Fuzhou railway station witnessed many passengers calling their families to tell them their train number and which carriage they were assigned. Some even took photos of their tickets and sent it to their relatives.

Trains are the primary mode of transport in China, according to a research by the China Youth Daily in 2009. More than 80 percent of the 3,000 respondents said trains were "cheaper, safer and faster."

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