China Air, Rail Mishaps Spur Demands for Safety

United Press International

China's leaders and press, in rare public alarm, criticized the nation's transport industry Saturday and demanded improved safety after 159 people died recently in an airplane crash and two major rail accidents.

Acting Premier Li Peng, in the first public reaction by the country's leaders to the tragedies, urged civil aviation and rail agencies "to ensure safe transportation and guarantee the lives and property of passengers."

The State Council, China's Cabinet, issued emergency orders for upgrading railway safety, including "an immediate check of equipment," the official New China News Agency reported.

The official press also called for improvements. A commentary in the China Youth News noted the aviation industry's history of management snafus, obsolete equipment and substandard training.

3 Major Accidents

The outcry, rare in a country where man-made disasters once went unreported, came in response to three major transportation accidents during the past two weeks that killed 159 people.

Last Monday, a domestic airliner on a flight from Beijing crashed while on its landing approach at the southwest city of Chongqing, killing all 108 people aboard, including three Japanese and a Briton. An initial investigation blamed the failure of two engines in the old four-engine turboprop plane.

On Jan. 7, a bucket of paint carried by a passenger aboard a train in southern China ignited an inferno in which 34 people died. On Jan. 17, a passenger train in northeast China slammed into a freight train after its brakes failed, killing 17 people.

Li, a Soviet-trained engineer with an industry background, acknowledged that transportation remains a "weak link" in China's modernization efforts, the news agency reported.

"The present transport capacity and facilities are incompatible to the growth of China's commodity and export-oriented economy," he said in a meeting with transport officials in Beijing.

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