[FOUNTAIN]‘God of death’ still takes toll of human life

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[FOUNTAIN]‘God of death’ still takes toll of human life

“Every hour, 20 out of 100 million airplane passengers will be killed in accidents. Auto accidents will take the lives of 12 out of 100 million per hour. Ten out of 100 million pedestrians will be killed every hour.
“How about trains? The death rate is only 2.9 per 100 million,” a Japanese railroad expert, Shuichiro Yamanouchi, wrote in his book, “Why Train Accidents Occur.” According to the book, riding a train is safer than flying in an airplane, driving an automobile, or even walking. Mr. Yamanouchi wrote based on a study of Japanese society in the 1980s and 90s. Railroads are considered safer than any other means of transportation in most countries.
But trains have not always been the safest means of transportation. Ironically, the first deadly accident occurred on Sept. 15, 1830, the day the first train in history began running in England. During the next 100 years, hundreds of people died from train accidents in England, France, and the United States. The early trains had a shameful nickname, “the god of death.” In 1865, an American weekly magazine published an article saying the “god of death” was targeting travelers. “Upon arrival at the destination, the passengers would heave a sigh of relief. This year’s death toll from train accidents is greater than the number of war dead.”
With new technology, trains became “the god of safety” in the latter half of the 20th century ― in some places. In less-developed nations in Africa and Asia, the railroad is still the god of death. Between 1990 and 2000, there have been 10 accidents worldwide that cost more than 100 lives, and nine of the 10 occurred in India, Pakistan, Myanmar, Angola and Kenya. The railroad conditions often reflect the standards of safety of the given country.
Aging railroad facilities, old communications systems and unstable electricity supplies can add up to disaster. A disastrous train crash recently occurred in Yongcheon, North Korea, where the railroad system is obsolete and unsafe.
But there is a yet more pitiful case. It was here, where 172 people died in a fire at a subway station in spite of a stable electricity supply and decent infrastructure. The newly opened high-speed trains are having problems as well. The railroad authority needs to look at its systems as it watches the disaster at Yongcheon.


by Lee Kyu-youn

The writer is a deputy city news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
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