Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Flashy Infrastructure in China Conceals Safety Risks

Two recent railway incidents, one in Shanghai on Tuesday (September 27) and another in the southeastern city of Wenzhou in July, are beginning to reveal that lots of new infrastructure does not convert to safe infrastructure. Even the Chinese government itself are sobering up to the fact that hastily built office complexes, shopping centers, mass transit systems and airports often comes at the expense of safety.

Even an editorial in today's issue of The Global Times, a Communist Party publication, urged that China be more cognizant of risk management in its business development, referring to the media blow-back and massive number of injuries (270) stemming from two subway trains colliding in the country's financial capital [Shanghai] Unfortunately, the accident came just two months after 40 people were killed when two high-speed trains collided on a viaduct in a rural section of Wenzhou.

COMMENT: Even in China, where government control has been elevated to an art-form, the two disasters have prompted unprecedented outrage at the incompetence of rail officials who additionally even seemed to mishandle the rescue efforts and then rush to re-open the line before safety concerns could be addressed.

Local media focused on one train passenger who after the accident in Shanghai was seen wearing a helmet to demonstrate his disgust. The incident in Shanghai, which boasts the world’s longest subway system, has again prompted anger toward officials.

On a positive note, China’s central government responded to the Wenzhou collision by slowing down trains, firing officials and scaling-back investment in high-speed rail, yet Chinese commuters don't seem to be convinced. Between 2010 and 2015, China will have invested US$180 billion in subway lines, tripling the network's reach to 1,864 miles, virtually unheard of in any developed nation. Sadly, the government's rushing the construction of the country’s transportation network will now continue under a cloud of severe public distrust.

For foreign travelers to China, be advised that transportation safety is one of biggest risks in traveling there. Getting hit on roadways as a pedestrian used to be the biggest problem in moving around the country. Now, unfortunately, unsafe mass-transmit systems may become a greater risk.

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