Although having a solid inspection system in place, such as that in New York, can help prevent injuries and deaths due to poor construction, inspectors cannot guarantee perfection. Sometimes construction accidents occur despite inspections or for reasons over which the property owner had no control.
One such incident, recently reported in the American media, occurred in China. It involved the collapse of a section of high-speed railroad track that had previously been inspected. The collapse raised new concerns about the ability of the government to build and run a high-speed rail system. These doubts add to the concerns that were raised when a 2011 crash, blamed on human error and shoddy construction, killed 40 people.
It appears that last week’s collapse was caused in part by drainage problems. The earth around the tracks apparently became waterlogged, and the concrete ties and steel tracks became submerged. This section of track had already undergone test runs and declared safe by the Chinese Ministry of Railways.
A whistleblower was reported to have voiced concerns, saying that the contractors had used earth rather than gravel when constructing the line, making the tracks likely to sink during heavy rains. The existence of corruption in the ministry is well known, and contractors report that they feel squeezed by officials who pocket the proceeds when corners are cut during construction.
Could something like this happen in New York City? Possibly. In 2009, six building inspectors were dismissed after they were found to be taking bribes. And recent elevator accidents in New York City buildings have raised questions about the ability of the city buildings department to protect elevator users. In the 1990s, paying bribes to inspectors was so common that builders and property owners simply planned on paying bribes as part of the cost of doing business.
Even testing and standards contractors employed by the city have gotten into the act. For example, in 2011, a concrete testing company was indicted for falsifying testing results and issuing fraudulent inspection reports that resulted in compromised safety.
Source: New York Times, “In China, Part of Railway Collapses Despite Test Runs,” by Ian Johnson, Mar. 13, 2012.