Chinese premier Wen Jiabao on Thursday urged the Ministry of Railways (MOR) to give an “honest answer” to the people on the way it had handled the aftermath of a fatal train crash.
Wen was speaking to reporters at the site of the weekend crash of two high-speed trains near Wenzhou of eastern China’s Zhejiang Province that killed 39 people and injured 192 others.
“I called the minister of railways soon after the crash happened, and what I said to him was just two words — ’save people’,” said Wen.
“The Ministry of Railways should give an honest answer to the people as to whether it has conformed with this principle in dealing with the collision,” he said.
The high-speed train collision in China last Saturday shocked the world, and the way the country’s railway administrators have handled the aftermath has done nothing to reassure the public of its professionalism.
Although having apologized to passengers and re-declared confidence in the country’s high-speed train technologies, the MOR is still facing widespread criticism of the way it handled the accident. The public is also lashing out at the ministry as it grows increasingly concerned about transportation safety.
An initial investigation into the accident indicates that design flaws in railway signal equipment led to the collision, the Shanghai Railway Bureau said on Thursday.
Internet chatrooms and microblogging sites were filled with angry outbursts after an online video showed a carriage of one of trains was buried instead of being taken away for further investigation, triggering concerns that the true reason for the crash might be buried along with it.
“The headstock was buried under the viaduct to make it easier for the rescue,” said Wang Yongping, an MOR spokesman.
“I don’t know whether you are convinced, but I am,” he told reporters at a press conference.
Concerns were also raised as a toddler was found alive after railway authorities announced that there were no vital signs at the accident site and began to tear apart train carriages.
The ministry, as it monopolizes the country’s rail transport, has long been dubbed “tie lao da,” or “big rail brother,” for its indifference to passengers’ needs, despite a raft of reform measures implemented to promote market-oriented development over the past decades.
Debt risks, corruption and rail safety are also on the list of railway problems as the country rapidly expands its high-speed railway networks to improve transportation and boost the economy.
It would be a tough task for the ministry to win back public faith in railways, analysts have said.
“Public forgiveness can only be obtained by disclosing the truth. To regain public trust, the ministry has to probe the cause of the accident and honestly inform the public,” said Song Shinan, a columnist.