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Chinese Officials Announce Panel to Investigate Train Accident

Chinese rescuers work around the wreckage of train cars in Wenzhou in east China's Zhejiang province, July 24, 2011

Chinese rescuers work around the wreckage of train cars in Wenzhou in east China's Zhejiang province, July 24, 2011

Chinese Vice-Premier Zhang Dejiang has visited the site of Saturday's deadly train collision in eastern Zhejiang province and urged local authorities to mobilize all available resources to help those affected by the crash.

Officials say at least 35 people died and more than 200 others were injured when a southbound high-speed train ran into another one, which had lost power and stalled on a bridge after being hit by a lightening. The official news agency Xinhua reports that the collision near the city of Wenzhou caused four carriages of one train to fall off a bridge and derailed two carriages of the other train.

During Sunday's visit, Zhang said China's cabinet has set up an investigative panel to look into the accident. Xinhua quoted him as saying that the investigators will find the cause of the accident, and that those responsible will be punished according to law.

Three top officials of the Shanghai Railway bureau have already been dismissed.

A spokesman for the ministry of railways (Wang Yongping) expressed sorrow for the victims of the crash and condolences to those injured. He said the accident will raise questions about the safety of high speed rail itself. But he added that the high-speed rail technology is up to standards and that the government has faith in it.

China has spent billions of dollars to connect its cities with high-speed rail, but this is the second time in recent weeks a storm has been blamed for causing problems.

Earlier this month, a storm-induced power failure caused a 90-minute delay on the new Beijing-to-Shanghai line.

Officials opened the line late last month with great fanfare. The Ministry of Railway’s chief engineer, He Hua Wu, told reporters taking the inaugural trip that the new rail link is the “pride of China and Chinese people.” The 1,300-kilometer trip between China’s capital and its financial hub takes less than five hours.

Critics say the multi-billion-dollar high-speed rail plan is too expensive for a country where millions of people live in poverty, and that the lines are being built primarily to boost Beijing’s prestige.

The train that was hit by lightening was traveling between the cities of Hangzhou and Wenzhou. The train that plowed into it was bound for the city of Fuzhou from Beijing.