By Stephen Millies
Published Aug 8, 2011 10:10 PM
A terrible train wreck occurred July 23 in China’s Zhejiang province near Wenzhou, about 220 miles south of Shanghai. Thirty-nine people were killed and 200 injured as a moving train crashed into a stalled train. Passenger cars were thrown off a viaduct.
People around the world were saddened by the loss of life in China’s train disaster. Many Chinese are upset over this tragedy and are wondering how it could have happened. The railroad line opened in 2009.
Unlike President George W. Bush, who let Black and poor people drown and starve in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao went to the scene and comforted survivors in hospitals. Some railroad officials have already been fired as an investigation into the wreck continues.
What is known so far is that lightning apparently knocked out the overhead power line, forcing one train to stop. The lightning strike also changed the stop signal so the following train was allowed to proceed. Because of this malfunctioning signal, the engineer had no idea there was a stalled train ahead.
Railroad signal technology has developed over the last 160 years, yet signal failures still occasionally occur.
In the late 1980s this writer was working in an Amtrak signal tower in New Jersey. A commuter train was crossing over in front of an Amtrak train near Philadelphia despite a “clear” signal allowing the Amtrak train to proceed. Fortunately, the Amtrak engineer saw the other train in time and was able to stop the Amtrak train.
*** Behind China’s rail growth ***
Socialist China’s answer to the capitalist economic crisis has been to build railroads, dozens of subways and plenty of new housing. What a contrast to capitalist decay in the United States where just in New York City alone, St. Vincent’s, St. John’s, Cabrini and Sydenham hospitals have closed.
From about 400 miles of high-speed railroad lines in 2008, China now has over 5,000 miles. China’s latest five-year plan calls for almost 19,000 more miles of railroad, not all of it high speed, at the cost of over $400 billon.
On June 30 China opened an 832-mile high-speed line linking Beijing and Shanghai. Every day 90 trains are scheduled to go each way, with the fastest ones making the trip in less than five hours.
Going over frozen tundra and high mountains, the railroad line linking Tibet Province with the rest of China is an engineering marvel. Most Tibetans had been serfs under the Dalai Lama until they were freed by the People’s Liberation Army in 1959.
Meanwhile, at least 60,000 miles of railroad lines in the United States were abandoned. Since 1947, 1.2 million railroad jobs have been abolished.
*** Healthy debate, media lies ***
There’s a big debate in China over building the high-speed rail system. Some wonder if tickets will be too expensive for workers and peasants, or if dangerous shortcuts might be taken because of the rapid construction.
In the last 30 years, though the socialist state still controls much of the Chinese economy, capitalists have been allowed to flourish. Are some of these crooks bribing officials for railroad contracts?
Relatives of those killed in the crash have demonstrated and demanded compensation.
None of this activity is counterrevolutionary. Members of the 80-million-strong Communist Party are joining this healthy debate and asking tough questions.
The defamation campaign of the worldwide capitalist media is completely different. The media harp on the fact that the famous Japanese bullet trains have never killed anybody. That is good for capitalist Japan.
German capitalists are also known for having a good railroad system. This reputation didn’t prevent 101 people from being killed in a train crash near the village of Eschede on June 3, 1998.
This was the highest number of people ever killed in a high-speed train wreck. Yet as the China Daily noted on Aug.1, this Eschede disaster is missing from big-business-owned media accounts.
The real capitalist attitude was expressed by a blogger on businessinsider.com, who advised investors, “If one is so keen to profit on tragedy, buy Chinese airlines stocks.” The Washington Post on July 27 lectured China about its rail system and wrote that it cannot be a model for the U.S.
Chinese workers don’t need the Washington Post to tell them how to build railroads. Chinese labor was indispensable for the first U.S. transcontinental railroad crossing California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains. In return, Chinese Americans got racism and death, such as the lynching of at least 18 Chinese in Los Angeles in 1871.
Where were these Post editorial writers when nine people died in a train crash on the Washington Metro in the nation’s capital on June 22, 2009?
Completely preventable train accidents have occurred near Washington, D.C. Sixteen people were killed in the Chase, Md., disaster on Jan. 4, 1987. Eleven people — including eight youths who had just graduated from a Job Corps camp — were killed in a crash outside Silver Spring, Md., on Feb. 16, 1996.
While engineers were blamed for these disasters, both these tragedies never would have occurred if necessary safety equipment hadn’t been removed.
Behind the corporate-owned media bashing of China is a fear of Chinese competition in technology and construction. U.S., European and Japanese capitalists don’t want People’s China to develop its own high-speed rail technology and signal systems.
But China will not be stopped from moving forward.
The writer is a member of Local 1402, Transportation Communications International Union/IAM.
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Article link: http://www.workers.org/2011/world/china_train_0811/