Prioritize safety over technology

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Prioritize safety over technology

The Board of Audit and Inspection launched a preliminary investigation into KTX high-speed trains, which have recently experienced a number of accidents for unspecified causes. The Ministry of Land, Transport and Maritime Affairs has also joined the bandwagon to come up with strengthened safety measures to avert a crisis.

We have already advised transportation authorities to halt operations of the high-speed trains if there is even the slightest doubt about their safety. We may not have seen a catastrophic disaster like what has happened in China, but summer holiday-goers are getting on the trains with a nervous heart.

The Korea Railroad Corp., or Korail, assures that the system is resilient and well prepared against any mishaps from nature like a heat wave, earthquake, storm or heavy snow as well as man-made accidents. It also argues that KTX trains are designed to slow down six kilometers (3.8 miles) out if a train ahead stops. Therefore, a devastating collision as happened in China is out of the question here, Korail claims.

But safety cannot be assured by words alone. The accident near Gwangmyeong Station was caused by loose nuts, and the delay in May occurred because a train engineer accidentally pressed the emergency button with his lunch box. A malfunctioning heat sensor also led to a halt in service.

The machinery, operators and the engineering and maintenance systems all seem to be faulty. The government said it plans to advance parts replacements and establish a supervising body to strengthen maintenance.

A Land, Transport and Maritime Affairs Ministry official even said that replacing parts takes time and that mechanical hitches are inevitable until the first half of next year. In the meantime, are we supposed to stake our lives each time we get on the train?

A high-speed railway represents a country’s technological status. The Chinese stock market took a steep dive after the disastrous train accident. Rail authorities, who boasted about having more cutting-edge high-speed rail technology than Japan’s Shinkansen, dropped their heads. In contrast, Japan considered its outstanding record of no major hitches in 47 years of service - except for an earthquake-caused derailment that did not cause any casualties.

We should prioritize safety over technology in rail service as our national reputation and our people’s lives are at stake. The authorities must get their acts together before it’s too late.
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