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China: Speeding caused deadly train collision

Image: China train crash
Passenger cars lie on their side Monday following an early-morning train collision in east China's Shandong province.Ng Kong / EPA
/ Source: The Associated Press

Speeding was blamed Tuesday for causing China's worst train accident in a decade that killed at least 70 people and injured more than 400.

The finding was delivered by an investigation panel set up by China's Cabinet, the State Council, according to the official Xinhua News Agency. It came just a little more than 24 hours after two trains collided in Shandong province in eastern China.

The investigation showed a Beijing to Qingdao passenger train was traveling at 81 miles per hour before the accident -- far over the section's speed limit of 50 mph, Xinhua said.

The train jumped its tracks and collided with an oncoming passenger train on another track. The government has already sacked two railway officials over the accident. Xinhua did not say if the engineers of the trains had survived the crash, or if they were being held as part of the investigation.

Glowing review of response
Local officials in Zibo city, where the accident happened, held a news conference Tuesday to give a glowing review of the emergency response, praising rescuers who rushed to the accident site and a doctor who worked more than 30 hours without rest.

The central and provincial governments "do not need to worry and the victims, their families and people from all walks of life are satisfied," said Liu Xinsheng, deputy secretary-general of the Zibo city government.

Liu said the local government was covering all medical expenses of the injured for the time being. "We won't let financial issues affect their medical treatment," he said.

No other information was released. Liu and other officials at the news conference refused to take questions.

The railway line was reopened to traffic Tuesday after work crews used heavy cranes to clear the tracks of damaged rail cars.

Seventy of the 416 people injured in the crash were in critical condition in hospital, according to Xinhua. No foreigners were among the dead. Injured survivors included four French nationals, a Chinese national sailing team coach and a 3-year-old boy.

One middle-aged woman said she was lucky she was awake when the accident happened.

"I was awake, I just got back from using the bathroom," said the woman, who would not give her name because her relatives did not know she was hurt.

"People who were sleeping, they got crushed to death and wouldn't even know it," she said at the Zibo Central Hospital.

The woman, who had layers of gauze wrapped around her permed hair, said the crash lasted about one minute. "I crawled out of a window. Anywhere there was space to get out, people were trying to get out," she said.

Trains are the most popular way to travel in China, and the country's overloaded rail network carried 1.36 billion passengers last year. While accidents are rare, the government is trying to extend and upgrade the state-run rail network and introduce more high-speed trains.

Happened before holiday
The crash happened just before the May Day weekend holiday. When the train to Qingdao -- site of the sailing competition during the Summer Olympics -- derailed nine of its carriages were knocked into a ditch, Railway Ministry spokesman Wang Yongping said in a statement.

The second train, on its way from Yantai in Shandong to Xuzhou in eastern Jiangsu province, was knocked off its tracks although it stayed upright.

Xinhua said both the director of the Railway Bureau in Jinan, the provincial capital and nearest big city, and the bureau's Communist Party Secretary, were sacked after the crash, and they face an investigation by the Ministry of Railways.

It was the second major railway accident in Shandong this year. In January, 18 people died when a train hurtling through the night at more than 75 mph slammed into a group of about 100 workers carrying out track maintenance near the city of Anqiu.

The accident was the worst train crash in China since 1997, when another collision killed 126 people.