A 13-year old boy died and 30 were injured when an escalator suddenly reversed direction at a station on Beijing Subway's Line 4 yesterday morning. Two people remain in critical condition.
Witnesses said the escalator malfunctioned at the Beijing Zoo Station at about 9.30am. "When we were about to reach exit A, we heard a 'kahk' and the ascending escalator suddenly reversed," a tourist from Heilongjiang told Beijing News from hospital. "Nobody was able to stand. We all fell together.
"My daughter was found underneath [the victims]. Now she can't move."
Zhang Lexiang , an escalator engineer and deputy general secretary of China Elevator Association, said he was not surprised by the accident. He said his association had received many reports about similar incidents in recent years, most frequently at public transport hubs such as subway stations.
He said manufacturers had been improving the safety of escalators for decades, with computers and digital sensors making reversals almost impossible.
To save money, however, subway lines on the mainland bought cheap, light-duty escalators designed for shopping malls.
Such escalators cost a third of the price of a heavy-duty escalator, Zhang said, but using them in a public transport hub could be fatal. The burden of heavy passenger loads for long hours would not only shorten the life span of electric motors and transmission systems, but breach the design limits of safety mechanisms.
Zhang said all developed countries mandated the use of heavy-duty escalators in public transport hubs. Hong Kong, for instance, requires specifications many times higher than the mainland.
"The mainland produces more than 95 per cent of the world's escalators," Zhang said. "We sell most heavy-duty models overseas. [But] we can't find a single buyer in the mainland's public sector."
In December, an escalator at Guomao station on Shenzhen's Metro reversed, injuring 24 passengers.
Line 4 is operated by Beijing MTR Corporation, a joint venture formed by Beijing Infrastructure Investment, Beijing Capital Group and Hong Kong's MTR Corporation.
Beijing MTR declined to confirm that the escalator had reversed.
The escalator was manufactured by US-based Otis. A spokesman at the company's China headquarters, in Tianjin , said it had launched an investigation.
The MTR Corp, which holds a 49 per cent stake in the Beijing Subway joint venture, said the escalator involved in the accident was owned by a company under the Beijing municipal government.
"The escalator, though inside the subway, is rented out by the company to the subway," an MTR spokesman said. It was maintained by Otis, he said.
Additional reporting by Martin Wong
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