Chatter heats up over high-speed rail glitch

China’s official Xinhua News Agency reported late last night, in both Chinese and English releases, that the G151 train on the country’s brand-new Beijing-Shanghai high-speed railway suffered a malfunction yesterday that resulted in a delay of “more than an hour.” On the basis of reports in social media, however, news websites (including Shanghai’s Xinmin Online), reported that the delay was two hours. Xinhua reported that “this malfunction was principally caused by thunderstorms.” Principally?

News of the malfunction on the high-speed rail spread quickly on social media, where Chinese were reading a different account of what happened on the line. Xinmin Online, the official news website of Shanghai’s Xinmin Evening News, quoted user “shirley_wang1018” writing on a microblog account that the train stopped for more than an hour, slowly started up again and had a second malfunction just 20 minutes later. Another web user wrote that there was no air circulation in the train cars, that the cars were leaning slightly, and that passengers were very nervous. Rail employees apparently explained to passengers that thunderstorms had caused an interruption of power to the overhead line system.

[ABOVE: A photo posted to Sina Weibo by a user aboard the Beijing-Shanghai high-speed rail shows passengers waiting in a dark car.]

A single Sina Weibo post by “Female Finance Reporter Bu Luo” (财经女记者部落) with a photo and short news brief on the rail malfunction had been shared more than 19,000 times by 2:30am on July 11. The post had more than 3,700 user comments.

The vast majority of users responded by voicing their anger and frustration, many voicing again concerns and criticisms that have followed the high-speed rail project through its history, particularly cost, corruption and safety. The rail, which officially opened to great fanfare on June 30, was an important sign of prestige and legitimacy for the Chinese Communist Party on the eve of its 90th anniversary on July 1. But many have bristled at the line’s price tag of 32.5 billion U.S. dollars. Rumors of corruption involving the project became news in February this year, when Liu Zhijun (刘志军), the head of the railway ministry, was arrested on charges of corruption.

“Sure the reason was ‘weather’,” Sina Weibo user “tata_Beijing” (塔塔_北京) said sarcastically.

“And they call it the safest rail in the world,” said user “turan kongjian” (突然空闲).

“The facts clearly show that the talk of being the safest is just hot air,” said user “yinbao xiaoxiong” (尹抱小熊), responding to another user who wrote: “Strange! This should be investigated! We should hold those responsible to account according to the law!”

“I’m sure this is just the beginning,” said user “jackie51”.

“How tragic is fast-food-style China!” bemoaned “yiguogudu_ye.”

“Taking an airplane is a lot safer. I’d rather wait in the airport, at least it’s safe,” said user “cha’ersicao” (查尔斯曹).

[ABOVE: A photo of passengers waiting outside train G151 as “emergency repairs” are made.]

14 Comments to “Chatter heats up over high-speed rail glitch”

  1. Li Jun says:

    China’s High speed train system is now crashing, its not even possible to stop two trains from colliding.

  2. Mary l says:

    Hi Thomas,

    Do you still think western media is making a big deal of the train delay now?

  3. Jack says:

    Let’s be honest, it could have been a lot worse. Trains derail in India every day, causing dozens of deaths. An hour in the dark doesn’t sound so bad. Especially as Weibo was full of claims the trains would explode or overturn as soon as they got out of the station. Nobody died, nobody was injured, and everyone got to where they were going.

    I was stranded at Dulles Airport in DC for 24 hours in March because of cancellations and was almost fired from my job as a result.

    I was stranded on the floor of Brussels airport terminal for two days last Christmas because of snow, and missed half my Christmas holiday.

    Chinese people complain about these minor delays because few of them have experienced the kind of delays and technical faults Americans are subjected to almost every time they travel. Seriously, guys, an hour? People get stuck on the runway for 3 hours at a time because of the China Civil Aviation Authority’s ludicrous air traffic control regulations. An hour’s delay in the US would be considered next to irrelevant unless you were actually a pregnant woman giving birth.

  4. ltlee says:

    The other poster made a claim based on a previous poster’s nationality and assumed experience. In contrast, I made a logical inference based on the capitalistic principle of profit maximizing. If you believe that western presses are not profit maximizing, please inform.
    In addition, I will admit that I am wrong to the extent that westerners are willing to admit that their countries and their government are not as a whole better than China and the Chinese government. So far, I have not met any westerners who are willing to admit the above.
    Do westerners reach the conclusion that western countries and governments are better because their extensive knowledge and experience on all things China? If not, the only conclusion is that they are being fed holier-than-thou by western presses all the time.

  5. ltlee says:

    I don’t know how to read poster’s nationality from their posts. Can you?
    Western presses are for profit organizations. These organizations exist primarily to maximize the returns of the shareholders. Hence, their reports and their analysis have to appeal to their targeted readers. News in the west can be good or bad. Bad news of course will upset their readers and make them unhappy. One thing these organizations can always sell is “holier-than-thou.” That is, UK, USA, and etc could be bad, but they are still better countries, better governments than China. This kind of message will make the western readers feel better about themselves. “China is bad” articles and analysis hence serve to balance depressing articles and
    analysis on western countries. And of course, most readers in the west do not know China well enough to distinguish dishonest from honest reporting on China

  6. jim says:

    You’re having a laugh, aren’t you? You challenge another commenter to present evidence for their assertion then proceed to make colossal generalisations without presenting any evidence of your own.

    Also – what does the Western media have to do with this? See David’s comment below.

  7. LD says:

    ” “Thomas can’t get angry at the people responsible for this mishap, so he will get angry at the people responsible for letting him know about it.”
    Don’t know the other poster. I cannot tell whether he could not get angry at some people or not. If you have reason to lead you to your cconclusion, please share.”

    I think Matt’s point is that “the people responsible,” i.e., the mainland govt, are unaccountable to mainland citizens, and so Thomas has no way of responsibly/civically venting his frustrations.
    As for the last half of your post, I’m not sure I understand. Could you explain more?

  8. ltlee says:

    “Thomas can’t get angry at the people responsible for this mishap, so he will get angry at the people responsible for letting him know about it.”
    Don’t know the other poster. I cannot tell whether he could not get angry at some people or not. If you have reason to lead you to your cconclusion, please share. I, however, notice this:
    If the western presses criticize western governments for good reasons, they have to criticize the Chinese government for real or imaginary reasons. Balanced coverage? Selling holier-than-thou to make western readers feel better about themselves? What do you think?

  9. Matt says:

    Thomas can’t get angry at the people responsible for this mishap, so he will get angry at the people responsible for letting him know about it.

  10. David says:


    Simmer down, please. We are not Western media. The reports of a one-hour delay we linked to here are from China’s official Xinhua News Agency in both English and Chinese, not from Western media. The reports suggesting more than a one-hour delay are from another Chinese website, the official site of Shanghai’s Xinmin Online.

    You may dismiss Chinese web users as pessimistic low-lifes, but the point of our project is to monitor Chinese media, including social media, so the eyewitness accounts of the train malfunction via social media, the swell of interest in Chinese social media, and the reports in Chinese official media are all of interest to us.

    We did not call the train malfunction the end of the world. We called it a “glitch” and a “malfunction.” So did Xinhua.


  11. Thomas says:

    China’s HSR is the best in the world and for Western media (propaganda) to report a 1 hour delay as the end of the world and using quotes from pessimistic, low lives who have nothing better to do than tweet nonsense is absolutely ridiculous!!!

  12. Vam says:

    Could the reporter please update the article with info on the weather at the time of the stoppage and how far any thunder storms were from the train? Me too lazy too look it up.

  13. kailing says:

    Not only waiting in darkness, it seems, seeing the standing guy shirt, that they also offered free sauna access…

  14. John Jefkins says:

    Delays happen all the time with planes.
    At least if a train breaks down you do not fall out of the sky.
    Trains really are a lot safer than planes!

    Nobody dies with the train stops working!
    Everybody dies when a plane stops working.

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