ZIBO, Shandong: Two passenger trains collided in Shandong province early yesterday morning, killing at least 70 people and leaving 416 injured - 51 seriously - as carriages derailed and toppled into a ditch, railway authorities said.
Officials said the accident was caused by "human error" and ruled out terrorism.
The accident was the worst in the country since 1997 when 126 people were killed in a train crash in Hunan province.
The Jinan Railway Bureau said yesterday that 57 people were killed on the spot and the others died at hospitals. Ministry of Railway spokesman Wang Yongping said the death toll could rise.
Among the injured were four French nationals, all of whom have been hospitalized with bone fractures, a spokesman for the provincial foreign affairs office said.
The accident occurred near Zibo - 70 km east of the provincial capital Jinan - at 4:43 am when the Beijing-Qingdao train, T195, derailed. It was hit by a train coming in the opposite direction, coded 5034, from Yantai to Xuzhou in Jiangsu province.
One passenger on T195, surnamed Zhang, said she felt like riding a "roller coaster".
"Many people fell on me and hot water poured out of their thermos flasks," she said.
Nine T195 carriages toppled and caused the other train to veer off its track too, toppling five carriages.
Although investigations are continuing, some investigators said T195 was traveling at 131 kph when the accident occurred, far in excess of the speed limit of 80 kph.
President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao issued directives that all-out efforts be made in rescuing and treating the injured.
Vice-Premier Zhang Dejiang, Minister of Railways Liu Zhijun and head of the State Administration of Work Safety Wang Jun arrived at the site to oversee the rescue work.
The Ministry of Railways has expressed condolences to the victims.
The accident disrupted two-way traffic on the Jinan-Qingdao Railway, a 384-km pivotal rail link between the two big cities in Shandong.
Thousands of passengers were stranded at stations in the province and authorities arranged buses to relieve the pressure.
Cranes and forklifts were sent in at midday to remove the wrecked cars and damaged cross-ties from the rails. By 5 pm, more than 1,000 workers were still repairing the line.
The Ministry of Railways said it expected to restore service at about 8 am today.
This is the second major railway accident in Shandong this year.
In January, a high-speed train from Beijing to Qingdao knocked down a group of railway workers, leaving 18 dead and nine injured.
The workers were re-laying the tracks when the train ran into the work site in Anqiu.
China had raised train speeds six times as of April 2007, with railways allowing a speed of more than 200 km per hour on 6,227 km of track.
Xinhua - China Daily