Suspend KTX nowPassengers’ patience is quickly wearing thin now that Korea’s once-proud bullet train, the KTX, has become a synonym for mishaps. People are increasingly worried about whether they should give their business to the risk-ridden trains. Simply put, the KTX, a symbol of fast and modern transportation, degenerated into a nuisance and is now something like a crisis. Huh Joon-young, CEO of Korea Railroad Corp. (Korail), must come up with measures to avert a massive accident.
KTX trains have stopped in the middle of their journeys 36 times this year due to a wide variety of causes, including derailment, delays, and malfunctions of motors, electricity and air conditioning.
The other day, there were two breakdowns in just three hours. As a result, the over 400 passengers aboard the first train had to endure sizzling heat inside a tunnel for one hour after the train suddenly came to a halt. With the other train, a similar number of passengers had to transfer to another train after an unexpected breakdown of a cooling system. Experts say it’s very rare for two high-speed trains to stop in one day for unknown reasons. If Korail doesn’t fully examine its operation problems and come up with some fundamental solutions, it bodes ill for the safety of the KTX system down the track.
The problem, however, is that Korail and Hyundai Rotem, the manufacturer of the trains, are busy blaming each other for the mess, with the former criticizing the latter for mechanical faults and the latter condemning the former for operational mistakes.
On the surface, the primary cause of the accidents appears to be poor maintenance. But it’s not sufficient to look for simple causes, given that problems have occurred in a wide range of circumstances and include the malfunctioning of parts. That situation calls for an intensive and urgent overhaul, not only of the system’s design but also its manufacturing and operations.
We believe that Korail must suspend its operations temporarily and thoroughly examine all trains. The authorities should determine whether the accidents have resulted from the government’s rush to develop the high-tech train without a full consideration of any potential glitches, let alone proper scrutiny of potential gaps in the operations and maintenance systems. The Board of Audit and Inspection, which will reportedly begin auditing Korail soon, must pay special attention to that. The government must not invite another accident by leaving a faulty KTX system intact.