At least 40 passengers, including two Americans, were killed in a terrible crash of a Chinese bullet train on July 23. The "official" cause of the devastating crash was ruled a lightning strike, though reactions from authorities have raised doubts.

The fatal accident happened on a Saturday evening in China's Zhejiang province. Two bullet trains, speeding down the same line, collided after a lightning strike supposedly disabled one of the train's propulsion system, leaving it dead on the track. To make matters worse, the collision occurred along an elevated section of track, pushing some train sections off a bridge and down to the ground below.

This catastrophe, according to Automotive News China, may forever change China's electric vehicle strategy. In recent times, the Chinese government has encouraged immediate adoption of cutting-edge technologies so that key industrial sectors could leapfrog global rivals. China's rail system was one sector that embraced advanced technologies to build a network where trains fly along at speeds of up to 217 miles per hour.

The crash led Chinese authorities to launch a thorough review of safety in the transportation sector. It's believed that China will ultimately conclude that advanced technologies must undergo better testing prior to implementation. This runs counter to China's immediate-adoption approach and could mean that the use of some technologies (for example, electric vehicles) could be delayed as passing China's stringent testing protocols won't be accomplished without setbacks. Given that China already has other reasons to rethink its plug-in vehicle policy, the tea leaves may be telling us something.

As of right now, it's unclear whether or not a single train crash will forever change China's automotive future, but in the wake of the railway accident, the nation's government seems to have realized that it's too dangerous to blindly trust in technologies developed overseas that haven't been fully tested domestically, even if they do seem to promise leapfrogging ability.



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  • 18 Comments
      HVH20
      • 3 Years Ago
      Since when has China ACTUALLY cared about its people? They are known for their disregard for safety and wellness of workers.
      Sukairain
      • 3 Years Ago
      Before we get all racist and go all Anti-China Communist Human Rights rant. Let's not forget what happened exactly 3 years ago today in California when a Metrolink commuter train collided head on with a freight train. 25 dead 175 injured, right in the People's Republic of California. SEPT 12th, 2008 California Chatsworth Train Collision: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2008_Chatsworth_train_collision China does not have a good record when it comes to safety, but accidents happen. Just keeping things in perspective.
      mythicalprogrammer
      • 3 Years Ago
      Lightning? You serious right? The chances of lighting exploding a car is very low. I would imagine hitting a damn train would short circuit it but still have some sort of brake system to slow down the train or the very least a damn long run way so it can slow down to a complete stop. I don't trust China, hell they had news where they crop out Top Gun.
      Jelly
      • 3 Years Ago
      It should have been designed failsafe in the first place, it also should have had system redundancy built in to deal with lightning strikes, lightning arrestors are used on aircraft l wonder if they had something similar fitted on the train. Thank for the link AB on why the Chinese government are now rethinking to change policies on EV, how can a EV be the future if nobody is buying them or wants one in China.
      2 Wheeled Menace
      • 3 Years Ago
      As if a gasoline system, with an alternator, large battery, electric controls, electronic fuel injection, air con/heat would have fared any worse. How far would you car go without ignition or electronic fuel injection? This is a 'let's dump on electric' piece that has nothing to do with electric powertrains. Wouldn't expect more from mr. Loveday though.
      Arun Murali
      • 3 Years Ago
      I am going to assume that lightning strike somehow forced the train to a stop. And also assume that the train needs about 5 kms to stop. But when the train stops in a high speed line, arent they supposed to raise some kind of alert so that all the trains sharing that particular line is halted. I thought this was very basics, any one having a toy rail kit at home would have noticed it. This is why signalling was even developed back in 1850's. So the train stopped for some reason, why did the other trains not stop. Were they running the trains less than 5 kms apart, very rare. In India, when such accidents occur, they call it human error(most of our signals still use switch based manual management). I would have accepted cutting edge technology failure if the train derailed or the glass broke killing the driver. The last thing that might have failed is the backup radio that the driver is supposed to have in case every system in the train fails, which is not cutting edge at all.
      Dan Frederiksen
      • 3 Years Ago
      it's 350km/h. they don't use retarded units in China. it seems to me that ultimately flight is safer, quicker and cheaper than rail. flight just needs a mentality change (and in USA it needs a full frontal lobotomy). an airport should not be a small country that you travel to as a journey in itself. a moderate size aircraft doesn't need much to take off and come back down. think train station with a section of road as runway and you can arrive minutes before and just walk on to any flight instead of panickly devoted to a very specific time and arrive 2 hours early just to be safe. and then have simple reliable small planes of around 50 passengers each that fly all the time with air traffic control and flight by computer. doesn't even need a crew. a human controller in the 'tower' can just handle the door closing by remote, looking at monitors so people get in and out right. controllers can also check in during a flight by remote control and passengers can contact controllers if there is a medical emergency or such. if the plane just has some good safety features like simplicity and a ballistic parachute so it can fall out of the air without anybody getting hurt then it can really work. much better than trains. an intelligently engineered aircraft doesn't even have windows which should tell you how cheap and reliable it could be. with unfettered aerodynamics.
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Dan Frederiksen
        Wow. You go from technically asinine comments about automobiles and electrical technology to absolutely idiotic theories about aircraft. You are no end of entertainment, dan frederiksen.
      electronx16
      • 3 Years Ago
      Everything you ever hear about China gives the impression that Chinese are not that worried about other people's well being (frankly they really couldn't care less it seems), so I doubt any safety considerations have anything to do with China's EV policy. The real reason China is revising it's quick adoption of electric vehicles strategy has probably more to do with lack of useful tech that could be copied or extorted from foreign rivals. For instance BYD, the supposed poster boy of China's nascent EV industry has so far come up largely empty and is heading towards bankruptcy. The technology from foreign rival including China build Coda is just too expensive to have more than a marginal impact on the Chinese carmarket. So now China is desperately looking for a plan B to curb its exponentially growing oil addiction. Because that's what it's all about, the rest is just smoke and mirrors.
        Marco Polo
        • 3 Years Ago
        @electronx16
        @electronx16 For once we agree! The PRC government is all about saving face. Controlling the media is not as easy as it was in the past. PRC's huge oil companies have had far less success in acquiring foreign oil than the Coal and Mineral resource sector. This is probably because the PRC is pretty niggardly about price and the toughness of Western Oil giants in competition. Nevertheless, PRC oil companies, are very active in Iran, Burma and several African and former USSR states. Virent's new biogasoline would be exciting news for the PRC, but Shell has the process well captured! PRC lacks the biogeneticists, and feedstock experts, to exploit this technology.(for now)
      King George
      • 3 Years Ago
      Watched the full report on TV. You would not believe this. Authorities dug a huge hole, buried all the dead with the train wreck into it, right there in the picture above. To stall investigation and hide certain facts. That is at the time of the accident, the electric system went, the train driver was driving at 350km .... using his eye to see if there were any obstacles in front.
      Elmo Biggins
      • 3 Years Ago
      What do safety checks on trains that go 217miles an hour have to do with EVs???
      Dave D
      • 3 Years Ago
      What the fyke does a high speed train crash have to do with EVs? Did someone, in Chinese government, actually equate the two or did you "stretch the facts" to make this connection and troll for some posts?
      paulwesterberg
      • 3 Years Ago
      This tragedy should prompt more fail-safe design and testing of train routing systems. I doubt that this will have much impact on electric car adoption.
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