The investigation into a bullet train crash in China in the summer that killed 40 people has come and gone with scarcely any fresh information released about what led to the disaster.
The secrecy surrounding the investigator’s report, originally due in September and reportedly extended until late this month, is typical of the sensitivities shown toward wider troubles plaguing the showcase high-speed rail program.
The accident inflamed public criticism over whether the powerful Chinese Ministry of Railways was sacrificing safety in its costly quest to quickly roll out the bullet train network. Regulations on major transport accidents called for a report on the accident by Nov. 20, according to state media reports. Railway ministry officials refused comment yesterday.
The few slivers of information about the probe have been quickly recanted.
A railway expert and deputy director of the investigation team, Wang Mengshu (王夢恕), backtracked from comments published on Monday in the state-run Beijing Times newspaper that quoted him as saying the accident near the eastern city of Wenzhou largely resulted from mismanagement.
State media yesterday carried reports of Wang saying he was misquoted, that his comments were only his personal opinion and that he was not authorized to speak to the media.
“I was not involved in the whole investigation. I did not have a general idea of the whole thing and I did not know whether the conclusion had been submitted,” Wang told state-run CCTV.
Wang did not respond to calls and e-mailed requests for comment.
In comments posted on the State Administration of Work Safety’s Web site, Wang promised full and accurate disclosure of its findings.
The lack of transparency has left some in China skeptical that problems with the high-speed rail network are being resolved, said Li Hongchang (李紅昌), an economics professor at Beijing Jiaotong University.
“People want not just the report, but to understand how it was compiled. Openness and credibility are actually more important than the report itself,” Li said.
Shortly after the accident, authorities blamed problems with the high-tech signaling systems used to run and route the trains for the crash, which occurred after railway staff failed to notice anything amiss when a lightening strike stalled a train and the signaling system failed to turn red.
However, they have since backed away from that finding. The Beijing Times report quoted Wang as saying that given the lack of problems with the same signaling systems on other lines, the crash occurred mainly because of human error.