Safety first

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Safety first

We are hit with another major transit accident as the country has not even started to recover from the state of shock and mourning caused by the maritime disaster in which a ferry capsized with more than 400 people on board. An eastbound train crashed into another train on Seoul Metro line No. 2 after it left Sangwangsimni Station, injuring more than 200 commuters on both trains Friday afternoon. The accident underscored once again the poor safety infrastructure in this country. Subway officials foundered and failed to act fast to evacuate people - a repetition of the slow and unreliable reaction of authorities following the April 16 Sewol tragedy.

The subway collision took place because the train failed to stop in time and rear-ended the train in front of it. The impact was so strong that the two cars at the end of the train that was hit derailed. Power immediately went off and passengers were trapped in complete darkness. There were screams and some bleeding from shattered windows. About 240 people were injured and 500 had to be evacuated. Fortunately, there were no fatalities.

The accident is being investigated, but there’s hardly any question that lax safety awareness is to be blamed. An automatic brake that should have engaged when the train approached within 200 meters (219 yards) of the other train failed to work. A bell that warns of an approaching train also did not ring.

Scared and in complete blackness, passengers had to force open the doors to get out. At first, announcements over the loudspeaker told passengers to stay in the trains. Later, they were evacuated. Passengers had to make their way out of the dark tunnel without any escorts. Many of them were returning from the mourning alter at City Hall for the victims of the sunken Sewol ferry.

Subway lines in and around the capital have recently been raising safety concerns. On April 3, a train on line No. 4 derailed between Sookmyung Women’s University Station and Samgakji Station. There was a chain of five disruptions in rail services on lines Nos. 1, 2 and 4 over the last two months. The accidents occurred because of oversights in technical maintenance and poor operations.

Experts blame the accidents on delays in replacing equipment and infrastructure renovation to save on costs. Moral hazards and poor training also led to human errors. The government must thoroughly re-examine safety standards of subway systems across the nation. The people are not just worried about public safety. They actually fear for their lives. The country must place top priority on rebuilding its infrastructure to put safety first.

JoongAng Ilbo, May 3, Page 30

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