South Korea has yet to learn it must put safety of pas­sen­gers be­fore all else

The China Post - - COMMENTARY -

South Kore­ans were led to be­lieve that public safety would re­ceive the ut­most at­ten­tion fol­low­ing last year’s Se­wol ferry dis­as­ter, which has been at­trib­uted to, among other things, bla­tant dis­re­gard for safety in pur­suit of mon­e­tary gains.

Yet, just as the na­tion is about to mark the first an­niver­sary of that dis­as­ter, we are re­minded how lit­tle progress has been made in rais­ing aware­ness about safety. How else can one ex­plain the state­ment is­sued by KO­RAIL fol­low­ing three in­ci­dents on the newly opened KTX Honam line that serves the south­west­ern cor­ri­dor of the coun­try?

In the first three days of op­er­a­tions, three in­ci­dents could have po­ten­tially led to ac­ci­dents. On the first day, the ex­te­rior cover for washer liq­uid was dis­cov­ered dam­aged as the train bound for Gwangju from Seoul ap­proached Gwangmyeong Sta­tion. How­ever, the train was al­lowed to con­tinue op­er­at­ing with­out fix­ing the prob­lem, al­beit at a slower speed. KO­RAIL taped the dam­aged cover when the train ar­rived at Ik­san Sta­tion, but it could not with­stand the speed and fell off, only to be taped again at the next sta­tion.

On April 4, a KTX train bound for Gwangju came to an abrupt stop on a bridge near Osong Sta­tion due to a mal­func­tion of the sig­nal sys­tem. On the same day, a KTX train bound for Yongsan trav­eled in re­verse for 1 kilo­me­ter af­ter elec­tric­ity went out on a 5.3-kilo­me­ter stretch be­tween Ik­san Sta­tion and Gongju Sta­tion. KO­RAIL said a bird’s nest on the elec­tric wire caused the power out­age that lasted nearly 90 min­utes.

All the mishaps could have been pre­vented if there had been thor­ough safety in­spec­tions. Ac­cord­ing to KO­RAIL, the dam­age to the ex­te­rior cover for washer liq­uid was caused by the train man­u­fac­turer’s fail­ure to ap­ply glue to af­fix the bolt. As for the abrupt stop on the bridge, KO­RAIL said a tech­ni­cal mal­func­tion caused the train to stop for three min­utes. The power out­age be­tween Ik­san Sta­tion and Gongju Sta­tion was found to have been caused by a bird’s nest built on an in­su­la­tor, ac­cord­ing to a KO­RAIL state­ment. All th­ese prob­lems should have been spot­ted and fixed be­fore the train ser­vice ever went into op­er­a­tion.

How­ever, the rail­way op­er­a­tor ap­pears to be pre­oc­cu­pied with of­fer­ing ex­cuses, rather than ad­mit­ting to its mis­takes and fail­ures. In the state­ment, KO­RAIL said that the com­pany did not fully pre­pare for er­rors that could have led to de­lays but also in­sisted that the mal­func­tions would not have di­rectly in­flu­enced safety. Does KO­RAIL re­ally want the public to be­lieve that those mal­func­tions and er­rors would not have led to an ac­ci­dent?

Be­tray­ing the com­pany’s lack­adaisi­cal at­ti­tude to­ward safety, KO­RAIL went so far as to point out that er­rors can be ex­pected in the early days of op­er­a­tion, cit­ing the ex­am­ples of the KTX Gyeongbu line, which opened in 2004, and the in­tro­duc­tion of lo­cally made San­cheon trains in 2010. In the early days of the KTX Gyeongbu line, there were some 80 mal­func­tions and er­rors. If that is the case, didn’t KO­RAIL learn from those in­ci­dents so that the lat­est ser­vice was launched smoothly?

KO­RAIL said it would work with the train man­u­fac­turer and the con­struc­tion firms to re­solve the prob­lems at the ear­li­est date. How­ever, as the KTX op­er­a­tor, KO­RAIL should as­sume re­spon­si­bil­ity for al­low­ing the ser­vice to be launched with mal­func­tions and er­rors that could have been pre­vented had it been pay­ing close at­ten­tion to safety is­sues.

The new KTX Honam line cuts travel time be­tween Seoul and Gwangju by 90 min­utes. How­ever, more im­por­tant than ar­riv­ing faster is ar­riv­ing safely. This is an ed­i­to­rial pub­lished by The Korea Her­ald on April 7.

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