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Electrical Problems Likely Sparked Maglev Fire

The investigation into the fire on Shanghai's maglev train last Friday is likely to show that electrical problems were the cause, China Daily has learned.


A joint investigation by German manufacturers and Chinese experts was launched after the fire.


"We have ruled out the possibility the fire was started deliberately, and attribute it to electrical problems,” said Chen Jiahua, head of the fire-proofing department of Shanghai Fire Bureau, which has taken part in the investigation.


Chen told China Daily that the high-speed train caught fire below deck, in the bottom of the carriage where electrical equipment is stored. The fire did not spread above deck to the place where passengers sit, although lots of smoke was generated.


Although this is the first time the train has caught fire, "similar minor technical problems have occurred several times before," a source who is close to the  investigation but asked not to be named told China Daily.


According to the source, since the train began testing in 2002 several minor problems have already occurred due to short circuits. Also, one carriage was seriously damaged when thieves stole wires from the track but left some exposed.


"There is a strong electrical current in the equipment below deck. Once the insulators get destroyed, for example by being jolted, it may lead to a short circuit or fire," said Luo Yanyun, a railway expert at Tongji University.


The fire happened just months after operators held a fire drill in May, but experts still worry poor safety measures mean passengers are at risk.


"The first thing to do in case of fire is evacuate passengers quickly," said Luo. "I doubt they can provide enough workable rescue shoots and ladders in an emergency."


Quickly towing a damaged compartment out of the station is also very important for protecting passengers, but "we don't have a locomotive suitable for the maglev train at present, which is a big problem," according to the inside source.


Currently the damaged carriage is still parked at a temporary stop on the track in the open air, a kilometer away from terminal Longyang Station. A scaffold has been built, but no repairs will be done until the investigation is complete.


However, Luo said, it's impossible for the maglev train to have no accidents at all. "Even planes crash, not to mention the maglev train. It really happens sometimes."


(China Daily August 18, 2006)


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