Round-the-clock construction of subway lines in at least 14 cities across China is speeding faster than any nation but leaving behind a track record of major accidents— worse than the latest accidents on the Delhi metro site.
Last November in eastern Hangzhou near Shanghai, 21 died after a vast section of an under-construction subway tunnel collapsed and swallowed workers, cars and a bus in its crater.
It was one of the biggest infrastructure projects in Hangzhou and the worst subway site accident in China.
“China lacks professionals for subway projects, as only a couple of cities have built them in the past,” Zhang Yan, secretary-general of the China Civil Engineering Society, told the State-run China Daily this month.
Most site accidents in China could have been avoided if the on-site manager was more experienced in subway construction, Zhang pointed out.
Last year, Shanghai mayor Han Zheng said that he has was ‘really worried’ about safety issues as the pace of subway construction in Shanghai hit an ‘extreme level’ to expand from 234 km to 400 km by next year. In January, two died and six were injured in two accidents— a toppled crane and an underground fire—at a subway site in Shanghai.
Beijing’s marathon construction of what will be the world’s biggest subway network when it grows from 200 km today to 561 km by 2015 is marked with safety concerns. In 2007, six died when an under-construction Line 10 collapsed in Beijing.
China’s construction accidents are also partly blamed on heavy government intervention in infrastructure projects. “Problematic infrastructure projects are more evident during an economic downturn when the Chinese government pumps in investments in fast projects,” said Shanghai-based Chenhao Zhang, senior analyst of the China research firm J L McGregor & Company.
The State-run Chinese media is also growing increasingly critical of the safety standards at construction projects.
“Overly rapid subway construction has derailed quality control,’’ said the Beijing Review last year after the Hangzhou accident.
“Under loose supervision, subway project contractors have put production safety in the backseat in pursuit of speed and profit, threatening workers’ lives,’’ the Review had then stated.