Unsafe at Any Speed?

TOKYO – At least 38 people were killed and more than 200 injured by the recent crash of two high-speed trains near Zhenzhou in Zhejiang, a province in China. The wrecked body of the ruined train was buried immediately afterward, with no investigation.

The intellectual-property dispute between Japan and China over the technology used in China’s new bullet trains was heated even before the accident. In the wake of the crash, the dispute has come to a boil.

Japan, of course, was the first country to build “bullet” trains, and their safety record is enviable. The Shinkansen super bullet train, which was directly affected by the earthquake that devastated northeast Japan in March, was able to resume operations on April 29. The latest-model Japanese bullet train, the Hayabusa, which made its debut only a week before the earthquake, can operate at 320 kilometers (200 miles) per hour – and now does, following quick repairs to its line.

Since it began operating between Tokyo and Shin-Osaka in 1964, Japan’s Shinkansen has served as a vital transport artery in Japan, and has suffered no fatal accidents. Let me reiterate: not a single person has died in a Shinkansen accident. The automatic train-stop system, perfected for the Shinkansen, functioned flawlessly even during the earthquake.