This week was a really bad one in terms of tragedies. First, there was the Norway mass shooting and then the high speed train collision in China, both of which saw lots of people killed. As sympathetic as I am over the horrendous Norway shooting where over 90 people lost their lives, I really feel sorry for the Chinese crash victims. The collision occurred when a high speed train crashed directly into another train, also high speed, that had stopped on the track because of an alleged lightning strike, which resulted in over 30 deaths and over 190 injuries. This was no mere accident because there were several serious negative aspects of the outcome. First, the way it happened raises some questions such as why was there no emergency action that could have been taken, especially by the authorities to realize that 1, a train had stopped dead on the tracks, and 2, a second train was bearing down directly on it. Second, this was the first high speed train accident for China since they started operations in 2007, yet no other deadly train accidents have ever occurred, specifically in France or Japan which both have been running high speed trains since the 60s. Third, this was the latest in a series of controversies over China’s high speed trains this year, which have resulted in the minister of rail resigning in February and the lowering of speeds.
As expected, there has been a huge outpouring of anger and sadness in China over this from the public and media as well as critics. China’s high speed trains have been lauded by a lot of foreign media, even from the US, as a sign of China’s unstoppable ascent into a superpower. These projects are flashy, but also expensive (the Beijing-Shanghai high speed train cost more than the Three Gorges dam project) and it doesn’t benefit a lot of Chinese who can’t afford it. I wonder if the fact that these victims were probably well-off people may arouse more anger among more urban and middle class people towards the government and force them to take more contrite actions. Usually, infrastructural deficiencies and corruption affect the rural and poor disproportionately more than those in cities or middle and upper classes. The push to develop high speed trains very likely meant shortcuts were taken and palms were greased (the dreaded c word comes into play – corruption). Whatever happens, the government needs to take heed of this, and realize that economic growth doesn’t necessarily mean progress for people.