Why China's Deadly Train Crash Seems So Suspicious

Angry internet users question the government as the death toll reaches 35

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Two bullet trains collided in Eastern China Saturday, and the result was catastrophic. At least 35 people have died and more than 200 are injured in Wenzhou, a city in Zhejiang province, the Los Angeles Times reports. Firefighters just rescued an unconscious toddler from underneath the rubble. And according to Xinhua News Agency, the operation of 58 trains has been suspended.

This is what happened, as reported by the LA Times: a high-speed train from Hangzhou stalled after being hit by lightning, and lost power. It was then rear-ended by a train originating from Beijing. The crash sent four carriages from the oncoming train tumbling 66 feet off an elevated track. Hundreds were trapped under the debris.

"Please save us," a passenger wrote on a Twitter-like blog. "The train is leaning toward one side now. And it's totally locked. The first few carriages hit each other."

Considering the crash began with lightning, one might think that no one would be held at fault.  Certainly the government has been reacting rapidly: Chinese President Hu Jintao called the rescue work a national priority, and the railway minister Sheng Guangzu rushed to supervise operations. But many have been voicing their suspicions about the attack, going so far as to indicate a possible cover-up by the government over the internet. Here are the reasons for the skepticism:

The wrecked train was buried, quickly. Video was posted online Sunday showing backhoes breaking apart the wrecked carriages that had fallen off the elevated tracks, and a photo showed backhoes burying them near the site. According to the New York Times:

Critics said the wreckage needed to be carefully examined for causes of the malfunction, but the railway ministry said that the trains contain valuable national technology and could not be left in the open in case it fell into the wrong hands.

Not only did the rapid steps to protect technology make the country question the government's priorities in the accident, but to some it looked as though the government was burying evidence. And according to the LA Times, the "internet users suspecting a coverup questioned how evidence could be destroyed so quickly and wondered if the carriages had been properly inspected by rescue teams for passengers first."

The second train might have been able to stop. According to the Times, the railway ministry "did not explain why the second train was not signaled to stop" after the first train was hit by lightening. It added that "new reports on Xinhua indicate that the first train had started to move by the time it was struck. The ministry has not explained the discrepancy."

Already, three senior railway officials were fired in response to the collision, according to the LA Times.

Infrastructure has been collapsing through China. The Times calls this crash "one of several high-profile public transportation accidents in China recently," citing an overloaded bus that caught fire in Central China early Friday, killing 41, an escalator collapse earlier this month, and the fact that "last week alone, four bridges collapsed in various Chinese cities."

The government has been accused of covering up disasters before. The Times also indicates that a commentator at the Communist Party paper, People’s Daily, said earlier this month that many disasters are covered up, such as a major oil spill that was hidden from public view for over a month.

The railway ministry was just involved in a corruption and safety scandal. The LA Times reports that the ministry was "rocked by scandal" in February "when its chief, Liu Zhijun, was dismissed after allegedly taking $125 million in kickbacks tied to shoddy construction work." It added that "two months later, the ministry reduced maximum speeds along the network to reduce costs and as a safety precaution."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.