BEIJING — A long-awaited Chinese government report says design flaws and sloppy management caused a bullet train crash in July that killed 40 people and triggered a public outcry over the dangers of the showcase system.
A former railway minister was among 54 officials found responsible for the crash, said the Cabinet report issued Wednesday. Several were ordered dismissed from Communist Party posts but there was no indication anyone would face criminal charges.
The crash report pledged improved safety and better oversight of technology development but gave no details of planned changes. There was no mention of plans to recall or replace any equipment.
The bullet train system, based on German and Japanese technology, was meant to showcase China's rising technical prowess but has suffered embarrassing equipment failures and other setbacks.
On Thursday, a man was struck by a bullet train and killed near the southeastern city of Xiamen after he climbed over a safety barrier and tried to cross the tracks, the official Xinhua News Agency reported. It said the train halted for 18 minutes and then continued on to Xiamen with a "bloody dent on the front of the locomotive."
The July collision near the southern city of Wenzhou also injured 177 people and had triggered criticism over the high cost and dangers of the bullet trains, a prestige project that once enjoyed lofty status on a level with China's manned space program.
The crash report was highly anticipated. Regulations had required it to be released by Nov. 20. When that date passed, the government offered little explanation, drawing renewed criticism by state media, which have been unusually skeptical about the handling of the accident and the investigation.
A Cabinet statement with the report summed up the cause as "serious design flaws and major safety risks" and errors in equipment procurement and management. It criticized the Railways Ministry's rescue efforts.
The report affirmed earlier government accounts that said a lightning strike caused one bullet train to stall and then a sensor failure and missteps by train controllers allowed a second train to keep moving on the same track and slam into it.
Those singled out for blame included former Minister of Railways Liu Zhijun, a bullet train booster who was detained in February in a graft investigation. Also criticized was the general manager of the company that manufactured the sensor, who died of a heart attack while talking to investigators in August.
The report criticized the deputy director of the Shanghai Railway Bureau for ordering railway carriages buried during rescue efforts but noted the minister intervened to stop that before they were interred. A 2-year-old girl was found alive in the wreckage after authorities declared rescue efforts completed.
The report said Liu and the railway ministry's former chief engineer, Zhang Shuguang, have been detained in separate corruption investigations but gave no indication graft played a role in the July crash.
The decision to assign blame to one figure who already has been jailed and another who is dead, along with midlevel managers who have been fired, suggests further political fallout will be limited.
Several officials including a former Communist Party secretary of the Shanghai Railway Bureau were ordered dismissed from their party posts, a penalty that is likely to end their career advancement. Others received official reprimands but there was no mention of possible criminal charges.
The bullet train is one facet of far-reaching government technology ambitions that call for developing a civilian jetliner, a Chinese mobile phone standard and advances in areas from nuclear power to genetics.
After the Wenzhou crash, 54 trains used on the Beijing-to-Shanghai line were recalled for repairs following delays caused by equipment failures.
Critics complain authorities have spent too much on high-speed lines while failing to invest enough in expanding cheaper, slower routes to serve China's poor majority.
Beijing is rapidly expanding China's 56,000-mile (91,000-kilometer) rail network, which is overloaded with passengers and cargo. But it has scaled back plans amid concern about whether the railway ministry can repay its mounting debts.
On Friday, the current railways minister, Sheng Guangzu, announced railway construction spending next year will be cut to about 400 billion yuan ($65 billion), down from this year's projected 469 billion yuan ($75 billion).
A failure to expand rail capacity could choke economic growth because exporters away from China's coast rely on rail to get goods to ports.
The rail ministry's reported debt is 2 trillion yuan ($300 billion). Analysts say its revenues are insufficient to repay that. That has prompted concern the ministry might need to be bailed out by Chinese taxpayers.