China fires railway heads, punishes dozens after deadly crash

The wreckage of a carriage is lifted from the accident scene one day after the July 23 train crash in Wenzhou, China.

Story highlights

  • The government will pay $145,000 in compensation for each victim
  • A safety overhaul of high-speed lines has been completed, the government says
  • The government probe found lightning and signaling failures contributed to the accident
  • Many Chinese believed the government engaged in a coverup after the crash
China will punish 54 people for their roles in a July train crash that killed 40 people, the government said Wednesday.
The announcement followed what the government described as a months-long investigation into the causes of the crash and what many in the country saw as a delayed, inadequate response.
In the wake of the July collision of two high-speed trains, which also injured 172 people according to government figures, many in China expressed fury at the government, particularly in posts online. Some alleged corruption and efforts to cover up the tragedy -- charges the government denied.
In a report released Wednesday, the Chinese government cited multiple problems that led to the crash and the initial emergency response.
A lightning strike July 23 caused a high-speed train to lose power near Wenzhou in eastern China, and a signaling failure led the next train to rear-end it, according to the final report.
"According to a final investigation report, the train crash was caused by major design flaws in train operating equipment, relaxed safety controls and poor emergency response to equipment failure," the state-run Xinhua news agency said.
The government has finished a safety overhaul on its high-speed rail lines, the report said.
The probe "exposed that the Ministry of Railway and the Shanghai Railway Bureau had failed to act properly after the accident and were unable to disclose relevant information on issues of social concern, leaving a negative social influence," Xinhua said.
The Ministry of Railways will pay 915,000 yuan ($145,000 ) in compensation for each victim, the news agency said.
China's Cabinet agreed at an executive meeting on Wednesday that the country will take disciplinary action against dozens of officials .
Among those named are Liu Zhijun, the country's former railway minister, and Zhang Shuguang, the railway ministry's deputy chief engineer, who were fired over an alleged "severe violation of discipline" earlier this year, Xinhua reported.
"Liu and Zhang, together with Ma Cheng, chairman of board at China Railway Signal and Communication Corp., producer of the the railway signaling system, were chiefly responsible for the crash, according to the State Council," Xinhua reported.
A government report posted online also said three top railway officials were dismissed -- Guangzhou Railway Group Chairman Xu Xiaoming, China Railway Signal & Communication (CRSC) Deputy General Manager Miao Weizhong, and Railway Signal Design Institute Chairman Zhang Haifeng. The report blamed them for violations linked to the incident.
Other officials could also face punishment, and some investigations are ongoing, the government report said.
Authorities are still looking into whether to charge anyone criminally, the report added.
Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao oversaw the meeting with investigators who revealed results of the probe.
The government found that the CRSC's "chaotic management at its research institute has caused the design flaws and major safety loopholes," Xinhua reported.
In addition to the payments to families of victims, the government has also signed agreements with 101 of the injured passengers that provide compensation of more 7.5 billion yuan ($1.2 billion), Xinhua said.
Current Railway Minister Sheng Guangzu "is required to make a thorough self-criticism" and present it to the council, Xinhua said. "Sheng said that the ministry has failed the nation and its people, and he expressed deep condolences to victims of the accident and sincere apologies to the injured," Xinhua said.