A bullet train runs past the crash site on Monday after services resumed. Photo: Xinhua
As the nation still reels from Saturday's bullet train crash, more questions and doubts are being raised of the authorities concerning the handling of the tragedy and China's fast-expanding railway system.
The official death toll for the crash near Wenzhou, Zhejiang Province, rose by five to 40 on Monday, with nearly 200 hospitalized, including 12 still in serious condition.
Yang Feng, a 31-year-old man who lost his pregnant wife and three other relatives in the accident, questioned the official tally.
"They recovered the bodies of my family members Sunday afternoon, and 10 other bodies were found around the same time," Yang told the Global Times. "I think the official toll is not accurate."
Wang Lihua, working at a funeral parlor in Wenzhou, told the Global Times on Monday that 40 bodies had been received, and that DNA tests were being carried out for identification purposes.
"A DNA test usually takes seven to eight hours. We will not cremate any corpses until the test results come out," Wang said.
About 30 relatives of victims gathered outside the Wenzhou government building on Monday night to demand direct talks with officials from the Shanghai Railway Bureau. These were granted and soon got underway at a local petition office.
The talks settled their demands to embalm the bodies of the deceased.
One person who attended the talks told the Global Times on condition of anonymity that officials from the Ministry of Railways (MOR) and the Shanghai Railway Bureau will hold talks today with each family about compensation, which may be between 400,000 and 500,000 yuan ($77,584.50) for each victim.
The US embassy in Beijing told the Global Times that two US citizens were among the deceased and that consular staff had contacted the families.
Yang Xiajie, a press officer with the Shanghai frontier inspection bureau, told the Global Times that six relatives of an Italian victim arrived at about 10 am on Monday.
The Italian embassy in Beijing did not comment.
Meanwhile, survivors began to remember the last moments before the collision.
"When the trains hit each other, I felt like I was in a time machine and suddenly traveling into another era," Jiang Leilei, a 28-year-old survivor on the D301 train from Beijing to Fuzhou, told the Global Times.
According to the MOR, the D301 ran into the back of the D3115 train, after the latter was forced to stop on a 15-meter high bridge due to lightning near Wenzhou South Station.
After regaining consciousness, Jiang crawled out of the first carriage that had fallen off the bridge and pulled her husband, Yang Jingjing, out of the wreckage.
"People were crying around me. I still felt like I was dreaming until I touched my husband, who had lots of blood on his face and was groaning," Jiang said, adding that local villagers got her to a hospital before the ambulances arrived.
"I was touched by (the actions of the) local people, although we didn't know each other. They kept on asking me to stay awake," she added.
The fate of Xiang Weiyi, a 2-year-old girl who was pulled from the wreckage 21 hours after the collision but who lost both her parents, drew attention nationwide.
Citing local doctors, the Xinhua News Agency reported that Xiang suffered bruises to her lungs and liver, and that blood flow was severed to two toes on her left foot.
She is still in intensive care but is showing good vital signs, doctors said.
After the accident, the authorities sacked three senior railway officials from the Shanghai Railway Bureau, including Long Jing, the head of the bureau.
The MOR then named An Lusheng, the ministry's general chief of command and control, to replace Long.
However, the new appointment quickly drew fire from the public as An was previously demoted in April 2008 after two trains collided in Shandong Province, killing 71 people.
An became the chief of the Chengdu Railway Bureau after the 2008 accident. In 2009, he was named as the head of the Shanghai bureau. One year later, he resumed his previous role at the MOR.
Questions also arose over how lightning could cause a crash between such advanced trains.
Citing unnamed railway experts, the Economic Observer newspaper reported that all bullet trains are equipped with protectors that will force trains to stop after being hit by lightning.
"After the train stops, manual control will take over to either restart the train or raise the alarm. Apparently, in Saturday's accident, human error was to blame," the report said.
However, a spokesman for China South Locomotive, which built both trains in a joint venture with Canada's Bombardier, told AFP that signaling operations were to blame for the crash.
General Electric in the US told AFP that the company supplied the signaling equipment on the line involved in Saturday's crash, but said it did not provide "vital" equipment.
Some Internet users have also asked why there were no alarm systems on the trains that would have informed the drivers of a dangerous level of proximity.
Citing a spokesman from Japan's bullet train operator JR East, Reuters reported that trains in Japan were equipped with the Automatic Train Control (ATC) system, which automatically brakes if trains get too close to one another.
Japanese bullet trains have not had any accidents resulting in injuries or deaths since they started running in 1964, Reuters said.
A commentary by the People's Daily warned that safety may have been neglected during the rapid expansion of China's railway system.
"China's railway system has entered a high-speed era. Such development is necessary, but it also requires more precise control and higher safety standards," the newspaper said.
Michael Pettis, a professor at Peking University's Guanghua School of Management, said the crash would not affect his willingness to travel by train.
"Trains are much more convenient than airplanes," Pettis explained to the Global Times.
However, Yu Dabao, a 47-year-old clothing industry worker, told AFP that he would now rather take the bus.
"You need to expand to develop, (but) it needs to be done in an orderly way, and I don't think it is. Before, there were no high-speed trains. It was too quick."
Since 1997, China has accomplished six major speed upgrades of its railways. It launched the bullet train service in 2007 with an average speed of 200 kilometers per hour (kph).
It then opened the high-speed railway service linking Beijing and Shanghai at the end of June, which runs at between 250 and 300 kph.
China boasts the world's longest high-speed rail network, with 8,358 kilometers of track by the end of last year. It expects to have 13,000 kilometers in operation by 2012 and 16,000 kilometers by 2020, according to the MOR.
However, that growth is expected to slow due to concerns over the MOR's heavy debt burden, and railway investment has been reduced to 745.5 billion yuan ($115.68 billion) this year from 823.5 billion yuan in 2010.
"We cannot reject the high-speed railway or stop its development after one accident," Yue Zhaohong, a professor from Beijing Jiaotong University, told the Global Times.
"Apart from finding out what went wrong, the authorities also need to be transparent about the relevant information, but the public should remain calm on the subject," Yue said, adding that the accident could have a negative impact on China's export and railway technology.
Liu Linlin and Huang Jingjing contributed to this story