Wenzhou Accident Investigation Results: Lots of Mistakes, But No One’s Fault



This afternoon, China’s State Council held an open meeting, during which it heard a report from the committee assigned to investigate the causes of the fatal high-speed rail accident in Wenzhou this July. The accident became perhaps the year’s biggest story on Chinese microblogs like Sina Weibo, and the incensed reaction and harsh criticism of the accident is seen by many as one of the reasons microblogging sites are now being ordered to implement real-name controls.

The accident investigators were given a broad mandate to determine the causes of the accident, and their origins in the design and implementation of any equipment that failed.

Needless to say, Penn Olson was not invited to the State Council meeting (we’re shocked!). However, they have publicly posted a report on the meeting which, among other things, sums up the conclusions the investigators came to about the causes of the accident. So what really went wrong? Here’s what they say:

  • Management of the development of Signal & Communications Group’s LKD2-T1 model control center equipment was disorderly.
  • The Signal & Communications Group failed to adequately live up to its responsibilities as the principal contractor on the Wenzhou line, which led to Wenzhou South Station being provided with equipment containing serious design flaws and posing grave safety hazards.
  • In the bidding, inspection, and implementation of the LKD2-T1 model, the Railway Ministry violated regulations and didn’t perform checks carefully, allowing the equipment to be implemented and used.
  • Lightning strikes led to malfunctions in control center and track equipment, and erroneous control signals appeared, leading to a dangerous situation for trains that were in transit.
  • The relevant workers in the Shanghai Railway Department had a low level of safety awareness, and after the accident occurred, they did not execute their responsibilities thoroughly or correctly.
  • The Railway Ministry (National) and the Shanghai Railway Department handled the rescue process improperly, failed to release information in a timely manner, and had a harmful effect on society by responding with imprecision to the deep concern [about the accident].

The report contains a recommendation for the punishment of a total of 54 people across the Signals & Communication Group, the Design Institute of Signals and Communication, the Railway Ministry, and the Shanghai Railway Department. The main heaping of the blame, however, was placed on the shoulders of the already-disgraced former Railway Minister Liu Zhijun and his Vice Minister. Both men had been removed from office in early 2011 — well before the accident occurred — on charges of corruption. The other ‘main culprit,’ according to the article is Ma Cheng, the deceased former CEO and GM of the Signals & Communications Group.

The report does also list people who are alive and not already under investigation as having played “major” roles that led to the accident, but the fact that the three “main” people singled out for punishment are all dead politically or literally is…well, let’s just say it invites a bit of skepticism about the investigation committee’s devotion to pursing justice.

In any event, it’s not clear from the report what criminal charges may be involved for those implicated, as that is a question for judicial authorities and is beyond the purview of the investigation team. However, the State Council did say in today’s meeting that it would be investigating Railway Ministry officials and reorganizing the Signals & Communications Group and Design Institute.

[via the Central Government]

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