Passengers aren’t guinea pigsA railroad switch is an essential mechanism to guide trains from one track to another in a junction or diamond crossing. A faulty mechanism can cause derailment or collision. An investigation found that the cause of the nearly disastrous derailment of a high-speed KTX train on Feb. 11 had been an unadjusted tapering bolt on the railroad near Gwangmyeong Station in Gyeonggi.
The new 128.6-kilometer (79.9-mile) bullet railway line connecting Dongdaemum in Seoul to Gyeongju and Busan that went into service in November last year has 76 switch points. All of them malfunctioned at least once in the last seven months, totaling 406.
The Korea Railroad Corp. (Korail) decided last month to stop using eight switch points at New Gyeongju Station and Ulsan Station that had frequently broken.
The move led to delays because trains were only allowed on secondary tracks instead of the main line, raising safety concerns as the high-speed trains had to suddenly slow down when passing the two stations.
Korail said it was investigating the problem with the railway builder, the Korea Rail Network Authority.
According to a JoongAng Ilbo report, the switches outfitted on the second phase of the Seoul-Busan line had only been used on conventional rail lines, allowing a maximum speed of 250 kilometers per hour (155 miles per hour). They received certification from Germany for use on high-speed railways, but they were first used in commercial service on the Korean lines. The switches are supplied by Australian manufacturer Hydrostar.
The first Seoul-Busan line had been fitted with French switches. We are therefore using products that have not been fully proven for their safety. The lives of Korean passengers could have been jeopardized at the expense of new product testing. The Board of Audit and Inspection had also raised safety concerns during construction. But they were nevertheless installed and have since been failing.
It is shocking to learn of such lax safety of our high-speed railway where accidents can easily become fatal. The investigation must disclose the exact cause of the problem and seek accountability. Negligence in public transportation safety should be dealt with as a crime.
Replacing the turnouts could cost 15 billion won (13.8 million). The Korea Rail Network Authority must reveal how it plans to finance the extra cost.