Shame on Korail

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Shame on Korail

State-run railroad operator Korail is facing a colossal crisis due to critical flaws in its hardware (trains) and software (manpower) as seen in a series of frequent accidents involving the high-speed KTX-Sancheon train. The recent recall of the train is now ringing an alarm bell for passenger safety here and abroad.

Foreign countries, which were interested in the advanced trains are closely watching what’s happening here. But Korail’s response to the crisis disappoints us. It has attempted to shift the blame onto Hyundai Rotem, the KTX-Sancheon train manufacturer, by requesting that Hyundai Rotem recall the flawed trains. Instead, Korail President Huh Joon-young should take responsibility for the crisis.

This year in particular, both KTX trains and newer KTX-Sancheon models have been involved in so many accidents - including derailment, abrupt stops and low-speed railroading - that passengers are increasingly afraid to board them. In February, a KTX-Sancheon train derailed in a tunnel near Gwangmyeong Station. But Korail responded with makeshift measures. Korail CEO Huh even said, “Nobody was hurt. It’s just a minor mechanical disorder.”

Every problem or accident is ultimately the result of human error, even though it may appear to come from mechanical flaws. The delay that occurred on May 10 shows that Korail employees are armed with a lax ethics code when it comes to the critical issues of punctuality. The 10-minute delay turned out to have originated from a ludicrous mistake by the operator, who had put a lunchbox on an emergency stop button.

Yet the Korail labor union tries to attribute the problems to the slashing of 5,000 jobs and the expansion of outsourcing since Huh became CEO of the company. Of course, restructuring and streamlining an elephantine organization is the right way to go. But Huh could have been more careful about making such drastic cuts, in anticipation of possible problems ahead.

Korail announced it will launch a technical examination of potential deficiencies in the KTX-Sancheon model and replace major parts. It is good that the company accepts its faults and is starting to fix them. But we don’t approve of Korail’s attempt to conceal the flaws from Brazil and the state of California, two potential buyers of the train. Instead, Korail should make public any technical glitches and improve the train’s safety, if it really wants to earn customers’ trust. If Korail does otherwise, it will no doubt leave indelible scars on the company’s reputation.
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