High Speed Rail Tragedy in China Reveals Small Minds in the West

If you suspect China is under a biased Western microscope being watched for every hiccup, the answer is “absolutely” yes and the evidence is overwhelming, while most of the world – especially the United States – is often ignored for the same sins and flaws.

On Saturday, July 23, 2011, China had its first railroad accident of the year, and it was reported globally with much criticism.

The Los Angeles Times shouts, “Deadly Chinese bullet train crash spawns anger, safety concerns”, and then reports that at least 43 people were killed and at least 200 injured.

The LA Times only had a few comments from readers and all that I read were insulting and negative of China.

MSNBC’s headline said, 32 die in China high-speed train crash and reported, “The total power failure rendered useless an electronic safety system designed to warn following trains of stalled trains on the tracks up ahead, and automatically halt them before a collision can occur.”

Comments such as this one followed the piece in MSNBC, “Anytime the Chinese get hosed by their own doing I just can’t feel bad for them… Better them than anyone else getting screwed by their quality control and reverse engineering.”

However, to be fair to MSNBC’s audience, there were many comments attacking ones such as the example I copied.  It was a lively debate worth reading.

Yahoo News was much more critical of China than MSNBC by focusing on safety and previous train wrecks in China dredging up as much dirt as possible.

One comment of many said, “the traffic safety in china is a joke. a very big joke. they don’t care about people, they care about face, they only interested in propaganda and fighting the big imperialist empire. they struggle to show the communism is working. guess what, is not working. so next time when you reverse engineering something do it completely. ever heard of Line blocks ? and throw the CTCS down the toilet and flush. twice.”

What causes such cruel and often evil reactions such as these from the Western media and readers?

Is it resentment because China is fast catching up to the United States as a global economic superpower?

Is it ethnic/racial hate because they are Chinese?

Is it envy because the quality of life is improving in China while life in the West is crumbling and burdened by debt?

Is it because they have a government run by China’s Communist Party?

One example of the “always beat up China” syndrome is a flawed and misleading opinion piece written by Charles Lane for The Washington Post.

Charles Lane wrote, “China’s bullet-train experience shows what can go wrong when an unelected elite, influenced by corrupt opportunists, gives orders that all must follow — without the robust public discussion we would have in the states.”

I wonder if Lane would include the “robust public discussion” we had in the states leading up to the 2008 global financial crises caused by American and Western greed and corruption.

I wanted to put Charles Lane’s Washington Post opinion to the test and I Googled the “history of global train wrecks” and found a detailed history going back to the early 19th century.

To save time and space, I decided to compare rail accidents starting from 2007 for only two of the world’s largest democracies and China.

It should be mentioned that both India and China rely on trains to move people much more than the United States, so we should expect more injuries and deaths from rail accidents in those countries. For that reason, I will compare the number of rail accidents to see which country has the best safety record.

The lowest score wins.

In 2007, there were thirty-three rail accidents listed for the world, and the United States had nine (27% of the total) killing seven and injuring more than a hundred, while India had three accidents killing 80 and injuring twelve.

China (ruled by what Charles Lane calls the unelected elite) had two rail accidents killing four and injuring two.

Score: United States 9, India 3 and China 2

In 2008, there were thirty-four rail accidents listed for the world, and the United States had eight (24%) with twenty-nine deaths and almost 300 injured, while India had one rail accident with no deaths or injured listed.

China (ruled by what Charles Lane calls the unelected elite) had one rail accident killing seventy-two and injuring 416.

Score: United States 17, India 4 and China 3

In 2009, there were thirty-nine rail accidents listed for the world, and the united States had seven (18%) with seventeen killed and five injured, while India had four accidents with thirty-two killed and 280 injured.

China (ruled by what Charles Lane calls the unelected elite) had two rail accidents killing seven and injuring 280.

Score: United States 24, India 8 and China 5

In 2010, there were fifty rail accidents listed for the world, and the United States had three (6%) with 32 injured, while India had fourteen rail accidents with hundreds killed and injured.

China (ruled by what Charles Lane calls the unelected elite) had one rail accident killing nineteen and injuring 71.

Score: United States 27, India 22 and China 6

This year by July 23, 2011, twenty-one train accidents were listed for the world, and the United States had eight (35%) killing eleven and injuring eighteen, while India had five accidents killing seventy-one and injuring two.

China (ruled by what Charles Lane calls the unelected elite) had one rail accident with at least 35 dead and 200 injured.

Score: United States 35, India 27 and China 7

From 2007 to July 23, 2011, the world had 177 rail accidents. The United States had 20% of the total, India 15% and China 4%. Source: List of Rail Accidents (Wiki)

When I Googled “train accident in China 2011” there were 55 million hits. It seems that popular “bad news” about China spreads fast and then the Western blame game begins, which represents Charles Lane’s “robust public discussion” in a democracy.

A few more interesting facts  to know before judging China’s rail system is that the average number of people traveling daily by train in China is 2.4 million, and in 2008, 1.456 billion people travelled 772.8 billion kilometers by rail.

I’d say with confidence that the odds are very good that if you travel by rail in China, you will reach your destination on time and without an accident.

A follow up post appeared two days later as More on China’s July 2011 Rail Accident and/or discover more of Really Fast Trains in and from China or China On the Fast Track


Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of The Concubine Saga. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

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9 Responses to High Speed Rail Tragedy in China Reveals Small Minds in the West

  1. […] High Speed Rail Tragedy in China Reveals Small Minds in West (39 people dead) and More on China’s July 2011 Rail Accident (Note: a Google search of this […]

  2. […] merely the least worst form of government. Right after the train wreck, journalist Lloyd Lofthouse pointed out that democratic India’s rail system is far more dangerous than China’s going by the […]

  3. Merlin says:

    Mother Nature you chaotic b…oh sorry for the language. Yes, no matter how far up the ladder human climbs, mother nature is always holdng the ladder and shaking it violently.

  4. Merlin says:

    It’s not really a “quality” problem or an engineering problem. Nobody can predict natural. I’d categorize it with natural disasters because who could’ve predicted lightning? Most trains in China operate on electricity, and even though it’s a no-brainer lightning would blow the circuit, still this has NEVER happened before.

    • I agree with you, Merlin. This was an act of nature and we should not hold China’s engineers responsible. After all, when an earthquake hits, do we blame the engineers for the earthquake? No matter how well we build something to survive a blow from mother nature, there is no guarantee that what we build will stand.

  5. Xiaohu Liu says:

    I think high-speed rail will go ahead despite this setback. It is still an idea worth pursuing, especially since we are at peak oil and the suburbia + 2 car strategy is not something the world can bare anymore.

    • Xiaohu Liu,

      I am sure that China will not halt the construction of high-speed rail. Unlike many, I understand that China plans for the future. If it means taking a loss for a few decades, China appears to accept that possibility.

      As you say, we cannot all have two cars and keep burning oil. It seems China understands that more than most and is doing something about it. The thunder/lightning that blew out the safety system for that stretch of high speed rail let the Chinese know that there was a weakness in the system that maybe even the Europeans have not thought of with their high speed rail networks and the problem will be fixed so it doesn’t happen again.

      I see this as an act of nature and mankind cannot be ready for everything that nature will throw at us. We can only do our best to be ready for the worst and I’m sure that we will never think of everything we could have done.

      Several years ago a giant oak tree (about three hundred years old) in our front yard that was about 80 feet tall (it was huge) fell, took out all the power lines, split a forty foot pine in the neighbor’s front yard across the street and almost crushed their house. We had not lived in the house for long and had inspectors come out to make sure these giants trees (we had more than six surrounding the house then) were not going to fall any time soon so that tree was inspected just weeks before, and the city’s inspector said it had a healthy canopy and would probably survive for several more centuries.

      There was a lot of damage and it was costly cleaning it up. The insurance company refused to pay for any of the damage because it was considered an “act of nature”. The power company also lost money because it was an act of nature, since they couldn’t claim we were negligent.

      What happened to cause that high speed rail accident was an act of nature — something that may never have happened before to any high speed rail line on the planet.

      I remember a bridge that collapsed in one of America’s north central states and people died. The authorizes had known for years that the bridge was old and needed to be replaced but they didn’t want to pay for it. After that bridge collapsed, it came out that America’s infrastructure is aging and many bridges were in need of being replaced but the government said the money was not there to fix things.

      I could probably write on this topic for hours pointing out the potential for similar problems in the United States. For example: America’s airports are aging and need work and there have been crashes caused by this situation but we don’t see any new airports being built.

      Another example would be the Ford Pinto and this tragedy came from out private sector. Ford executives knew the Pinto had a high risk that it would explode in rear end collisions but they coldly calculated it would be cheaper to pay the family of the dead compensation than spend the hundreds of millions it would take to recall all of the Pintos on the road. The result was that eventually, someone that had a conscious that worked for Ford leaked the memos on this topic and there was a HUGE class action lawsuit that Ford fought for years with a strategy that would ear down the people suing them.

      A close friend had lost their daughter to one of those accidents and after several decades they could not’ take the reminder and dropped out of the class action suit.

      And I’m sure that no one in China suspected that this could happen and cause a high speed rail accident. What are the odds that thunder and lightning would strict the one point in the system that would knock it out? The answer could be as simple as one worker didn’t do his or her job and connect the ground properly.

      I have known of American contractors that after an inspection before pouring the concrete for a buildings foundation pulled out all the rebar. This resulted din houses decades later having foundations that started to crumble and houses that slid off the foundation. By the time, the crime was discovered the contractor that did it had died of old age. In fact, I know this because I know a person that bought one of these houses and has to spend thousands to have the house jacked up, removed the old, crumbling foundation and have a new foundation put in that has rebar in it.

  6. The incredible pace taken in building these bullet train lines is a little unsettling. I think they are great and china’s lead by several brilliant engineers but precautionary measures are often overlooked. This is simply one of many sectors facing problems in the country’s transportation infrastructure.

    • I’m not sure that even if China had taken more time to build the system, a rail accident of this kind wouldn’t happen eventually, because rail accidents happen all over the world annually and have ever since railroads have existed.

      It is the risk we take when we want to get places faster. Even when we walked or road horses, accidents happened. Heck, you could walk out of your house when the temperature is below freezing, slip on black ice and die. That happens to people.

      If that thunder had never struck and blown the system so it failed, there would not have been an accident. Accidents happen and according to the facts about rail accidents, they happen a lot less in China and more often in the U.S. Why hasn’t the U.S. fixed the roblem with its rail system?

      What do you think the media and people leaving comments on the Internet would say if China had a disaster with their space program similar to the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster? The answer is simple. China’s government would be crucified.

      Since we are human that means we are not perfect and the Chinese are human. Mistakes are made just like they are in America and we cannot think of everything.

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