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Accidents a red signal for metro expansion

(China Daily)

09:30, September 29, 2011

Rescue personnel evacuate passengers trapped in a train carriage. Xinhua News Agency said most of the injuries were bruises and broken bones, with some external head traumas. [Photo/Xinhua]

Considering the millions of passengers who travel by subway every day without incident, underground trains are relatively safe. Try telling that to the 284 passengers who were injured on Tuesday in the Shanghai subway crash.

Or to the experts who have seen a rise in problems and accidents on the subways in China. More are anticipated as cities compete to have the newest, biggest and most quickly built subways in the country.

The need to travel in the city efficiently and rapidly sends many passengers underground, far from the madding crowds and traffic jams.

But the rapid pace of opening and expanding subways in China thwarts the sound planning that is needed, experts say.

Zhang Yan, secretary-general of the China Civil Engineering Society, put it this way: "A subway is the comprehensive exploration of space, which requires time for prudent investigation and planning, or else it will lead to irreparable damage to society and the environment."

Shang Rupeng, 31, worries about irreparable damage to himself. He loves subways, and he bought his apartment in Shenzhen largely because it is just five minutes' walk to the Bao'an Center station. But since Sept 12, he would rather risk traffic congestion on surface streets and tardiness to business appointments

Power failed on the subway he was riding on that Mid-Autumn Day. "He told me he thought of the Wenzhou train crash on July 23, which killed 40 and injured about 200, and the idea of death flashed in his mind," his wife, Liu Ting, said.

"I still have the jitters when I remember that I had been trapped in the totally dark and stuffy train carriage," Shang said. "I will never forget the scene. People rushed crazily into the first few compartments for fear of a rear-end collision."

Nobody was injured and the crash Shang feared that day didn't happen. But it did on Tuesday below Shanghai. A subway train on Line 10 crashed into a stalled train in the tunnel that links Laoximen and Yuyuan Garden stations. Signal failure is being blamed.

The wreck of the high-speed trains in July involved one train hitting a stalled train. A preliminary investigation cited a design flaw in a signaling system.

There have been other problems in and around subways in China: breakdowns, electricity failures, signal errors, collapsed tunnels and water leaks. In Beijing on July 5, a rising escalator suddenly reversed direction; a 13-year-old boy died and 28 people were hurt.

Those are results of the nation's expensive rush to build subways, experts warn. They say it's time for the government to reduce the pace of construction and pay more attention to the risks and to hidden problems.

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