A section of the railway line between Matianxu and Qifengdu stations on the Beijing-Guangzhou line collapsed following a landslide on Monday, causing Train T179 to derail and overturn, leaving one person dead and 127 people injured.
The loss of life is unfortunate, more so because just 11 minutes before the accident, a villager had called the police, alerting them about the landslide triggered by heavy rain. In other words, if the relevant authorities had acted quicker, perhaps the accident could have been averted.
The villager called the police hotline 110 at 11:29 am on Monday after noticing the landslide. The call lasted 1 minute and 21 seconds, before being transferred to the regional police station.
The police station in Taoting town, Yongxing county, near the accident scene, confirmed the call was received and recorded at 11:30 am, but it is unclear if the officer on duty received the warning as this is the time the shift changes.
Five minutes later, at 11:34 am, the villager found the railway signal light was on and a train was approaching. He frantically dialed 110 once again, the call lasting 52 seconds this time.
At 11:38 am, the Hengyang railway station signal officer received a call from the Guangzhou dispatch office, asking him to immediately stop Train T179. Dai contacted the train driver at 11:39 am, but got no response. The train driver got back to him at 11:40 am, saying the train had derailed.
Two key aspects need clarification. Did the police, who first received the call 11 minutes before the accident, alert the railway authorities? And when the signal officer received the call from the dispatch office, where had the alarm come from? In other words, was there a delay, inaction or violation of procedures? Also, are there loopholes in the warning system that can be closed?
Whether the accident was caused by a natural or man-made disaster cannot be concluded until the investigation ends. But when it comes to safety, even a second’s delay can prove fatal.
So, the crucial question is: Despite an alert being raised 11 minutes earlier, how did the accident happen? The authorities should launch a thorough investigation and find possible loopholes and plug them so that there is no repeat of such accidents.