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Chinese railway institute takes blame for train crash

WENZHOU -- A Chinese railway research institute took responsibility on Thursday for a flaw in signalling equipment which led to a train crash that killed 39 people and has shaken public confidence in the government's high-speed rail programme.

A high-speed train rammed into a stalled train near the city of Wenzhou in Zhejiang province on Saturday. Soon after the crash, domestic media had blamed foreign technology.

Railway authorities said in a report issued on Thursday a signal that should have turned red after a lighting strike hit the stalled train stayed green and rail staff then failed to see something was amiss, the state-run Xinhua news agency said.

The Beijing National Railway Research & Design Institute of Signals and Communications Co. Ltd. issued an apology, acknowledging that it was the source of the deadly flaw.

The Institute would "face up to shouldering responsibility, and accept any punishment that is due, and will strictly undertake pursuing culpability of those responsible", Xinhua reported, citing an institute statement.

"Safety overrides all else, and high-speed rail safety is of even more overriding importance," said the Institute.

The official moves to lay blame come in the face of public ire about the accident that has escalated into angry accusations that government officials have covered up facts and muted media coverage to protect an ambitious rail expansion plan and the ruling Communist Party's image of unruffled control.

The report about the signal problem came on the same day that Premier Wen Jaibao had been due to visit Wenzhou to mourn victims, express condolences to the relatives of the dead, and visit the site of the tragedy.

Wen, who has ordered an investigation into the crash and pledged the government would take "resolute" safety steps in its aftermath , later postponed his visit because of a health problem.

The crash, in which nearly 200 people were injured, was China's worst train accident since 2008.

Public anger has boiled up over the accident in online postings and in at least one organised protest.

On Wednesday, more than 100 relatives of passengers who were killed protested outside a railway station, angered by the lack of accountability over the incident, state media reported.

The Global Times, a tabloid owned by Communist Party mouthpiece the People's Daily, said the protesters demanded direct talks with officials from the Railways Ministry.

"They claimed that the bullet trains were built with advanced technology. How could lightning paralyze them so easily?" the newspaper quoted Wang Hui, whose husband died in the accident, as saying.

"Help us and tell us what really happened," the paper quoted the protesters, who gathered outside the station near the accident site, as saying.

The newspaper showed photographs on its website of dozens of people with some holding a banner that said: "Disclose the true reason behind the July 23 train crash and respect the dignity of victims."

Efforts by the propaganda department to bar Chinese media from questioning official accounts of the accident fuelled the anger and suspicion, especially about the death toll and rescue efforts.

The Railway Ministry is still investigating the cause of the accident, and has ordered a two-month safety review of railway operations.

State media has said the lightning strike knocked out power which in turn knocked out an electronic safety system designed to alert conductors about stalled locomotives on the line.

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