Still the right track

Updated: 2011-12-30 08:12

(China Daily)

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Four days after the deadly bullet train accident in Wenzhou, Zhejiang province, on July 23, Premier Wen Jiabao promised a "sincere and responsible account" of what had gone awry.

The findings of the official investigation have now been made public and the probe does appear to have been a sincere attempt to get to the heart of the matter.

The report, defying speculation that it would understate technical defects for fear of losing overseas orders, states that "serious design flaws" in the control equipment used at Wenzhou South Railway Station were the primary cause of the accident, but it attributes the tragedy to a concatenation of human errors.

The investigation found that aside from the design flaws, sloppy management and a failure to respond properly to the initial equipment failure were also to blame for the crash in which 40 people died.

The collage of contributing factors that the investigators have conscientiously assembled is deeply concerning: defective equipment, violations of bidding rules and technical examination procedures, poor maintenance, lax management, a low level of safety awareness and poor emergency response to equipment failure.

However, the investigators determined that both trains involved in the accident were in proper working condition and both drivers were cleared of any wrongdoing.

In all, 54 people have been held responsible for the tragedy, and their punishments have been announced.

But holding those liable accountable should only be the start of an overdue review of the way the country's railways are managed.

The Ministry of Railways, which was heavily criticized in the report, should not remain immune from reforms. The corruption that has accompanied the development of the country's high-speed railways, which was highlighted in the bidding and examination violations and the removals from office prior to the crash of the former railway minister Liu Zhijun and the ministry's former deputy chief engineer Zhang Shuguang, must be rooted out once and for all.

Minister of Railways Sheng Guangzu said the findings were "a big lesson".

While all the legitimate concerns must be properly addressed in a timely manner, the conclusions of the investigation should act as a spur to the safe development of high-speed railways in the country.

The authorities' responses to the accident have largely been sensible - slowing down high-speed trains, and ordering nationwide safety checks.

Higher speed is meaningless until safety concerns are properly taken care of.

But the experimental 500-kilometer-per-hour high-speed train that was recently unveiled is a sign that we are not giving up on high-speed railways.