Monday, September 5, 2011

China's HSR disaster can't possibly happen here, can it?

There are several reasons why the Telegraph, in the UK, published this news article.  Like us, they are also highly conflicted in Great Britain over the planned construction of the HS2, a second phase of high-speed rail construction, with a train planned to run from London to Edinburgh. 

In California, the very first words in the authorizing legislation include "safe" and "reliable."  The CHSRA has devoted a great deal of ink and air time to explaining how high-speed rail is so super safe, with no fatal accidents anywhere, etc.  Well, since this HSR accident in China, they've had to revise that absolute zero-defect argument to a more moderate position.  Now they say that the French TGV has never had an accident; there's no mention of other rail systems.

Oh, by the way, you do know that CHSRA has extensive ambitions to construct its rail line on elevated viaducts throughout California, which increases the fatality hazard of collisions and derailments immensely? We, on the Bay Area Peninsula, a under such threat.  But, we are constantly assured, what could possibly go wrong?

The point about the Chinese train wreck is that although their government persists in claiming the problem was a random lighting strike, the facts, which are surfacing now, tell a different story.  Faulty and hasty construction of the rail line itself, including all its electronics and safety systems,  and a highly flawed manufacturing process that produced defective rolling stock are now to blame.  Also, corruption which led to underfunding, sloppy work with little oversight, and a mis-handling of technologies bought from overseas are at fault. 

Chinese "blind ambition" for prestige in the industrial world compelled them to create a "show" project; they over-reached.  Or, said another way, they created their HSR system for ulterior, not transportation, purposes, including political.  Most other countries that have developed high-speed rail grew such systems incrementally, learning as they went.  I see none of that process here in California.

When we hear the phrase "mistakes were made," we should immediately recognize that a cover-up is at work where individuals distance themselves from bad judgements and decisions, as well as the intentional graft and corruption that resulted in the accident.

The photo shows a number of back-hoes and other construction equipment.  Why are they there?  The Chinese government's first reaction was to conceal as much of this wreck as possible by burying it at the accident site immediately.  Train cars that fell off the viaduct, containing many bodies, were broken up further and put underground. Talk about cover-up!

Of course we will not do such a thing here. But, that's not the point.  We, too, run the risk of sloppy work, bad judgements and bad decisions.  The US has no experience with high-speed rail, which is qualitatively different than regular rail construction and operation.  Since the California project is so permeated with political agendas and since the CHSRA has been so obsessed with public relations, marketing and advertising to sell its program, there is ample reason for anxiety on our part, particularly with no independent, critical, oversight.

Right now, the foxes are watching the hen-house. All the review processes (including peer review) appear to be internal and accommodate the rail authority's intentions.  Be afraid. Be very afraid.
China's high-speed railway had almost 170 problems

China’s high-speed railways suffered 168 glitches in July, the month that saw at least 40 people killed when two bullet trains collided in the south of the country.

In the immediate aftermath, officials said the crash had been caused by a lightning strike robbing one train of power and then a signalling error which led to a second train shunting it off the tracks and into the valley below.  Photo: EPA

By Malcolm Moore, Shanghai
2:21PM BST 05 Sep 2011

An internal report by the Railways ministry has revealed a long list of problems, including some trains losing “traction control” because of “manufacturing quality problems”.

The ministry said that 106 out of the 168 glitches were caused “by design and manufacturing quality problems” with its rolling stock.

Four separate train manufacturers all produced trains with problems, the ministry said. The report was an internal notice to local railway officials and train manufacturers, urging a thorough overhaul of their processes. It was then picked up by the official China Daily newspaper.

The revelations will cast further doubt on China’s high-speed rail project ahead of the findings later this month (SEPT) of an official investigation into the crash outside Wenzhou.

In the immediate aftermath, officials said the crash had been caused by a lightning strike robbing one train of power and then a signalling error which led to a second train shunting it off the tracks and into the valley below.

In the wake of the disaster, a further 54 high-speed trains were recalled from the Beijing to Shanghai line because of safety concerns.

High-speed trains have also had their speed reduced for safety reasons.

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