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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on Dec. 10)

All News 07:02 December 10, 2018

Rail safety
More people fearful of trains after repeated accidents

A series of rail accidents are fueling public anger toward Korail.

The latest was the derailment of a Seoul-bound KTX bullet train that had departed with 198 passengers from Gangneung, Gangwon Province, Saturday. The train derailed at around 7:35 a.m., five minutes after departure while headed to Jinbu Station. All of the train's 10 cars went off the track, injuring 15 passengers.

It is a relief that there were no major injuries, but it still caused huge disruptions and inconveniences for the passengers who were traveling to Seoul on a chilly day for important purposes like job interviews or college admissions. Many passengers had to wait in the freezing cold weather until they found alternative transportation to reach their destination.

The accident comes only a year after the Jinbu-Gangneung KTX link opened in December 2017 to facilitate accessibility to the venue of the PyeongChang Winter Olympic Games. It is the first major accident on the new section.

This is only one of more than 10 accidents on trains run by the national rail operator in the last three weeks. On Nov. 19, there was a crash between a forklift and a high-speed train near Seoul Station which injured three people who were repairing the tracks. On Nov. 20, a KTX train bound for Seoul from Jinju, South Gyeongsang Province, stopped at Osong Station in Cheongju, North Chungcheong Province, due to an electrical supply problem. This led to delays for more than 120 trains traveling on the Gyeongbu Line, affecting around 10,000 travelers. On Nov. 22, the Bundang Line which is operated by Korail stopped running, resulting in passengers being trapped in the train for more than an hour and subsequent delays in train operation. A worker who was doing track maintenance was hit and killed by a Saemaul train operated by Korail near Hanam Station in Gwangju on Nov. 28.

Korail has been criticized for weak management of the accidents. It offered a public apology Nov. 23 and designated an emergency management period. Korail CEO Oh Young-sik reported to Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon about prevention measures against rail accidents and malfunctions during Lee's Dec. 5 visit to Korail. But only a few days later on Dec. 8, the latest KTX disaster occurred, marking the first derailment of a high-speed train in almost eight years. This shows there is something fundamentally wrong with Korail's management.

Korail needs to come up with effective countermeasures to significantly improve the safety of its train operations and crisis management capacity. According to news reports, many passengers complained of lack of assistance from its staff when accidents occurred.

The current CEO's leadership is also under fire once again. A former lawmaker, Oh has no experience with railways and his appointment has been largely viewed as political. Since taking office in February, he has shown attention to political issues, such as the inter-Korean rail link which the Moon Jae-in administration is pushing heavily, and the reinstatement of employees who were fired more than 10 years ago. Someone with sufficient rail expertise and corporate management should be leading the national rail operator.

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