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Accidents waiting to happen

Dec 10,2018
A KTX train derailed shortly after departing from Gangneung, Gangwon on Saturday. The first two cars of the train carrying 198 passengers went totally off the rails. On the same day, a KTX train could not move from Daegu Station for 30 minutes for no reason. People are increasingly worried about the safety of our high speed trains.

What is more alarming is the fact that as many as 10 accidents took place on rails operated by Korail, the state-run railway company, over the last three weeks. On Nov. 20, 120 KTX train cars on the Gyeongbu and Honam Lines suffered a delay due to a breakdown in the power supply system in Osong Station, North Chungcheong. After the accident, Prime Minister Lee Nak-yeon rebuked Korail, visited its headquarters, and ordered the company to take steps to prevent such accidents. After apologizing to the public, KTX revved up its emergency management. Just three days later, another accident occurred.

Minister of Land, Infrastructure and Transport Kim Hyun-mi visited Gangneung and promised that the people involved would take responsibility for the accident. As soon as she discovers the cause of the accident, she must punish someone. But first, she must find out if the accident was really caused by problems with signals and switches, as she explained.

Some experts attribute the accidents to the government’s campaign to cut Korail’s maintenance staff. They say the state-run company increasingly tries to outsource railway maintenance to make up for its budget cuts. Others criticize the former government for streamlining state enterprises. But it is irresponsible to hold a previous administration accountable for a series of accidents one and half years after the launch of the new administration.

We might find the real reason in the Moon Jae-in administration’s “parachute appointments.” Korail is headed by three-term lawmaker Oh Young-sik, the CEO and president, who served as a senior aide to Moon during his presidential campaign. Shortly after the derailment in Gangneung, Oh attributed it to a potential problem originating with a sharp temperature fall. His remarks triggered criticisms. Senior positions at Korail and its affiliates are dominated by members of the ruling party and labor unions.

Under such circumstances, it does not make sense to talk about reconnecting railways between South and North Korea. The government must overhaul all possible problems facing the state-run company due to parachute appointments.

JoongAng Ilbo, Dec. 10, Page 34