A metro crash in China's commercial capital Shanghai prompted fresh accusations Wednesday that safety has been compromised in the country's rush to develop its vast transport network.
State media urged the government to "be more cautious" after the collision of two metro trains on Tuesday injured 284 people, just months after a deadly high-speed rail crash in the eastern city of Wenzhou killed at least 40.
Most of the injuries were mild, but the accident, blamed on a signalling failure, occurred on one of Shanghai's newest metro lines and is a blow to city authorities after an ambitious expansion programme for the World Expo.
Last year's six-month Expo attracted more than 70 million visitors from around the world and was viewed as a major success for the city as it develops into a global commercial capital.
The Global Times, an English-language daily, said China had no choice but to develop modern transport systems for major cities such as Beijing and Shanghai, but that it could not afford safety failures.
"China should be more cautious and concentrated in avoiding risks," the paper said in an editorial. "Although this is hard to do the tragedies in Wenzhou and Shanghai keep reminding people that China cannot afford failure."
The newspaper linked the accident to a fire that killed 58 people in a high-rise residential building in Shanghai last November, saying both incidents revealed that despite its modern appearance it was "still a developing city".
Then, welders accidentally ignited nylon netting around the building, but the companies involved were later found to have won contracts from local officials who accepted bribes.
Authorities have launched an investigation into exactly how the metro accident occurred on line 10, which was only opened last year.
But web users set little store by the probe, using China's hugely popular social networking sites to criticise repeated safety failures.
"An investigation team has been set up again. Who will trust it again? Should the same mistake not be corrected before it is repeated 100 times with the blood of ordinary people?" Tang Feng posted on Sina's Weibo, China's biggest microblog service.
Much of the public anger focused on Chinese-French joint venture CASCO Signal, which provided the signalling equipment involved in the Shanghai metro accident, according to the city’s metro operator.
CASCO is a venture between French transport and power giant Alstom and state-owned China Railway Signal & Communication Corp.
Chinese state media have reported that the signalling system implicated in the Wenzhou train crash was also supplied by the same company, but Dominique Pouliquen, president of Alstom China, denied this.
"CASCO has never made signalling systems for high-speed trains in China," he told AFP, adding that CASCO was "participating in the ongoing (metro) investigation" without commenting further.
China's rail sector has been plagued by allegations of widespread, high-level corruption, with fears that safety has been compromised as a result, particularly in the wake of the Wenzhou crash.
Railways minister Liu Zhijun was sacked in February over graft charges, after he allegedly took more than 800 million yuan ($125 million) in kickbacks over several years on contracts linked to the high-speed network.
China's state auditor in March said construction companies and individuals last year siphoned off 187 million yuan in funds meant for a high-profile Beijing-Shanghai link.
Luo Yanyun, deputy head of the Institute of Railway and Urban Traffic at Shanghai's Tongji University, said that in future, safety tests should not be carried out by equipment suppliers or end users.
"We've always called for the safety testing system to be reinforced with the introduction of independent parties," he told AFP.
Meanwhile, Zhang Mi, a member of the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development's urban rail transport safety and quality committee, told AFP that metro designers and builders were in short supply in China.
"Construction firms that have never conducted any subway construction are building subways. Moreover, most projects are sub-contracted to migrant workers," he said.
"Overall, there are not enough technical staff and undue emphasis has been placed on speed (of construction)."
The number of passengers taking line 10 had dropped visibly on Wednesday, Shanghai television reported. A section of the line remained closed for safety checks.