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China Rail Ministry Apologizes for Deadly Train Accident

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

A spokesman for China's Railway Ministry has apologized for a high-speed train accident that killed at least 35 people and injured more than 200 others late Saturday. While authorities are focusing now on rescue and recovery efforts, they have also pledged an investigation into what may have caused the two trains to collide.

The apology from Wang Yongping, the spokesman of China's Ministry of Railways, came Sunday in an interview with the state-run CCTV news network, not long after the incident occurred.

Wang says the Ministry of Railways is deeply sorry to all passengers for the occurrence of the accident and grieves bitterly for those who were killed. He says the ministry sends its deepest condolences to the families of those who have died and those who were injured.

He also offered up a possible reason why one of the trains had become disabled and another smashed into it while it was on a bridge, sending two cars hurtling to the ground below.

Wang says the initial results of an investigation into the accident suggests a lightning strike caused the train's systems to malfunction, and that more details are being analyzed as the investigation continues.

Online and in public, there was an immediate outpouring of concern and emotion for those who were injured and killed. At hospitals and bloodbanks near the accident, people lined up to donate blood.

There was skepticism online from some, however, about the rail ministry's apology.

One comment by Yun Yun, posted on a Twitter-like microblog run by Sina-dot-com, said the accident was unforgivable. It said that even if the train's signals were not working. The trains could have been reached by cell-phone.

Another posting asked, "how can you say lightning bears all the responsibility? Can lightning cause two trains to crash into each other. What in the world were you guys doing?"

China has spent billions of dollars to connect its cities with high-speed rail, and Saturday's accident is not the first in recent weeks to be blamed on bad weather and lightning.

Earlier this month, a storm-induced power failure caused a 90-minute delay on China's new Beijing-to-Shanghai line. The new train, which runs at a top speed of 300 kilometers per hour, experienced several power outages after it began commercial operations on June 30. The trains that collided on Saturday were older high-speed trains.

After the series of incidents occurred on the Shanghai - Beijing line, Wang also issued an apology as well.

Speaking in an online chat that was posted on the ministry's website, Wang said summer thunderstorms and wind caused some of the problems. He also said that while the malfunctions on the Shanghai - Beijing line did not pose any safety risks, they did affect the railway's operations.