Casco to Blame for Shanghai Subway’s Signaling System…and a Lot More


cascoYesterday’s subway accident in Shanghai appears not to have cost any passengers their lives, although it injured at least 270 people. But as details emerge, one name is appearing again and again: Casco.

It’s the name of the company that made the signaling system on the Line 10 subway in Shanghai that failed, causing the drivers to switch to manual controls and thus leading to the crash (drivers are not trained to drive the trains manually and rely heavily on signaling systems, according to one driver interviewed by the Global Times). But Casco also made the signaling system that failed in the Wenzhou high speed rail crash in July, and just a week after that accident its signaling system caused a subway train to run backward on Line 10 in Shanghai, the very same line that saw the crash yesterday.

Needless to say, people are starting to ask questions about Casco, questions like: “Where else have you installed signaling systems?” and “Why wasn’t the Shanghai system fixed after the first incident?” and “WTF, Casco?”

How is Casco responding? By hiding. Literally. A reporter with the Morning News was told over the phone by a Casco representative that “the company does not accept interviews” and when he visited the company’s headquarters in person, he was told by guards that reporters were not allowed to visit the company. He did eventually find their door, but it was sealed shut. Through the glass door, the reporter saw numerous people working, but his shouts and repeated ringing of the door buzzer went ignored. When the reporter went to take a photo, the girl at the front desk dove behind the desk and hid.

Casco is a joint venture between the China Railway Signal & Communication Group and the Paris-based Alstrom. They may be ducking behind their desks for the moment, but that hasn’t stopped Chinese netizens on Sina Weibo and elsewhere from digging up a purported list of the other places Casco has installed their signaling systems. Shanghaiist has translated the full list, which includes other major metro lines, including lines 1, 3, 12, and 13 in Shanghai and lines 2, 5, 13 and the Batong line in Beijing, in addition to a number of other lines in both cities still under construction, and lines in Tianjin, Changchun, Shenzhen, and Dalian. They’re also working on new lines in Guangzhou, Ningbo, Shenzhen, and Kunming.

Government officials have promised an investigation, and Yu Guangyao, the chairman of the Shengtong Group which runs Shanghai’s Line 10 subway, reminded reporters that Casco had made promises following the train-runs-backwards incident on Line 10 in July:

“After line 10 ran in the wrong direction, Shentong really did meet with leaders from Casco, and Casco gave [us] a promise that there would be no more safety accidents on the subway. After what happened this afternoon, I think we’ll definitely want to carefully discern the true cause of this accident.”

When asked if Shentong would consider ditching Casco, chairman Yu didn’t dismiss it outright, saying that first an investigation needed to take place. But Shentong and authorities clearly aren’t waiting for the results of that investigation, as the Line 10 subway was already up and running again yesterday evening, presumably using the same signaling system.

It seems that just like after the high-speed rail crash in July, the priority is getting the trains running again rather than attempting to resolve safety issues first. It’s hard to believe Shanghai’s Line 10 is any safer now than it was 24 hours ago, and despite the dozens of people in the hospital, the lines are still running. So are the lines in Beijing, Dalian, Changchun, Tianjin, and Shenzhen that use similar Casco equipment. Without these subway lines, of course, traffic congestion in these cities would be even worse than it already is. But with two major accidents, a high-profile bug, and a number of smaller incidents all having occurred within the last couple months, can anyone really feel safe riding a train with Casco equipment?

I doubt it. But the trains are running anyway. Passengers will take them, same as ever, and hope for the best.

(And yes, we're serious about ethics and transparency. More information here.)

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