Time for punishmentKoreans were shocked yesterday to learn that a train had passed by seven minutes before the railroad sank at Gajwa Station, Seoul, on the Gyeongui Railway. It is reported that 300 or so passengers were on board the commuter train, bound for Munsan. Two minutes before the incident, a train from Mokpo, bound for Susaek, managed to stop right in front of the collapsing bridge. If the train had passed over the bridge, a huge disaster would have occurred.
What’s more surprising is that people were aware of the danger. The construction company that bears responsibility for the incident noticed that the foundation supporting the railway was in danger of slipping, but they did not ask for trains to be stopped. Some 40 minutes before the incident the company found indications that the revetment of a construction site for a subway, beside the railway, could break down, so it evacuated all workers and moved equipment. But the company asked a train with hundreds of passengers aboard to just run slowly.
The company says that the revetment for the subway construction site was at a distance from the railway and the foundation of the railway was firm, so it did not think that the rail tracks could sink. But this is an excuse that reveals a lack of a sense of safety. The company simply left the lives of hundreds of passengers to luck. Townspeople near the railway say that exterior walls of buildings had cracks and windows were broken, indicating the possibility of such incident. The local people asked for measures but their demands were not heard and this incident happened.
This incident reminds us of a train wreck at Gupo Station in 1993. In that accident, 78 people were killed and 176 were injured.
Near the train station, excavation work had been done without safety measures so the foundation of the railway had been weakened. But the court said that six executives of the construction company were not directly responsible for the incident and thus were not guilty of a crime. This type of weak punishment is one reason such incidents, which are more characteristic of undeveloped countries, happen repeatedly in Korea even though its per capita income is nearing $30,000.
This time we should not let the incident go unpunished, even though it did not turn into a major disaster. The cause of the incident, such as the poor design of the revetment, must be revealed and the people who are responsible for it must be severely punished in order to increase the sense of security in our society.