On July 23, 2011, at 8:31pm, a train travelling from Beijing to Fuzhou (D301) rear-ended the Hangzhou-Fuzhou train (D3115) at a location between Wenzhou Yongjia station and Wenzhou South station. The first four cars of D301 were lifted off the tracks, as were the cars 15 to 16 of D3115. Cars one, two and three of D301 fell to the ground below, while car four stood propped against the raised rail. All were severely damaged. The cause of the incident has yet to be fully investigated, but an initial inquiry has confirmed that Wenzhou South Station indicated lightning danger, and the signal of the oncoming train should have subsequently turned red. Somehow, it remained green. As of July 29, forty people had died and 209 more were injured, with 11 in critical condition.
What do we know about the causes?
Wenzhou’s observatory had released a weather report before the accident, and the western part of the city was already experiencing lightning and periodic downpours. According to Xinhua, on the night of July 23, Shanghai Railways announced that the reason for the malfunction was that lightning had struck the tracks, causing the train to stop and thus be rear-ended by the train behind it. Later, the results of a national investigation revealed that the section of track between Yongjia Station and Wenzhou South was not influenced by lightning or rainstorm, and that operations were proceeding as normal. Furthermore, a July 27 report in Southern Metropolis Daily said train D3115 had not stopped on account of a lightning interruption, but possibly – according to a reliable source – because of mistakes made by workers managing the electricity supply; consequently, the tracks were obstructed, and the quickly approaching D301 had no way of knowing what was in front of it, leading to a terrible tragedy.
How was the rescue effort managed?
After the accident, the Ministry of Railways was widely criticised, particularly for its rescue and rehabilitation efforts. According to Xinmin Weekly, 10 hours after the incident occurred, the ministry announced that there were no signs of life in the rubble, and ordered that the rescue efforts turn into repair efforts. At 7pm on July 24, it announced that the tracks were again open for passage, while the official death count remained at 35. During the clean-up process, however, the toll rose to 39 lives. A fortieth person later died in hospital.
What compensation will the victims receive?
The railway ministry’s approach to compensation has also left much to be desired. According to the State Council’s “Railway and Traffic Accident Compensation and Investigation Regulations”, published in 2007, compensation for injured passengers is limited to 150,000 yuan, and compensation for lost luggage to 2000 yuan, combined with compulsory insurance of 20,000 yuan. If a passenger had failed to purchase commercial insurance, he or she would only obtain a total of 172,000 yuan (US$26,700).
According to ifeng.com, the Ministry of Railways subsequently adjusted the original numbers: setting a compensation baseline of 172,000 yuan – increasing to a total of 372,000 yuan when coupled with an insurance payout of 200,000 yuan – plus no more than 450,000 yuan in travel expenses for the victims’ family members, burial costs and other fees. This news only further stirred up public anger. On July 28, premier Wen Jiabao personally visited the site and met with victims’ families, and raised the compensation of each family to 915,000 yuan (US$142,000). As of August 2, 31 families had accepted the conditions of the compensation package.
Translated by chinadialogue volunteer Hannah Lincoln