China's Train System

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Flag of China  , Jiangsu,
Monday, July 25, 2011

As you all probably know there was a train accident in southern China recently that killed around 30 people and injured many more. The cause was a lightning strike that took out the power in the first train, thereby hindering its ability to send signals to the second train regarding the predicament. Since the second train was not informed of the situation the automatic braking system did not kick in.
China's train system has suffered quite a few setbacks recently, mostly due to corruption in its officials. Corruption isn't something that new when it comes to officials, especially Chinese ones, but I'm happy to see the Chinese government kicking these men out of their positions. However, it would probably be better to attempt to avoid corruption in the beginning instead of cleaning it up after it has already caused problems.
Other than corruption there have been technical difficulties with the new Shanghai - Beijing bullet train. Groups of travelers thought they would avoid sitting on a tarmac waiting for their plane to take off, instead they spend hours sitting on a stuffy train that has lost power.
Having been on my fair share of trains in China I have noticed both good and bad qualities. I don't feel any of the bad I have seen would result in a disaster like what happened in Wenzhou. The recent accident appears to have been an act of nature, though there could probably have been more done to prevent it. Likely the most dangerous practice I have observed at Chinese train stations is the lax attitude displayed by the security. I don't know how many times I have walked through security without anyone noticing me. Most of the time they will quickly wave one of those detector wands over you before signaling for you to continue. I'm not sure how useful waving one of those wands over someone's waist will be when  they decide to hide something in their shoe. I suppose China doesn't feel as threatened by people wanting to blow up their public transportation networks as countries in the West.
Aside from the problems with security there is one other blaring safety problem. In China you can buy something called a standing ticket. This is where they have finished selling all of the seats, and will allow people to buy a ticket and stand in the aisle until a seat opens up. I have sat on trains filled with people standing, even to the point of not being able to walk down the aisle. The danger in this practice should be apparent. If, for instance, an accident such as the recent one occurred to a train filled with people, things like escape become much harder.
All of my other gripes have to do with comfort: I don't enjoy people standing over my shoulder for 4 hours. Buy air conditioners for all of your trains! We are in the 21st century; there is no excuse for cars without ac. On slow trains the chairs are extremely uncomfortable. I'd rather have a comfortable chair for the long ride and an uncomfortable chair for the short ride. Anyway, those last couple are just my personal problems with trains. 
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