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[Editorial] Scary bullet trains

It’s really past time for Korea Railroad Corp. to stop the operations of its problem-ridden bullet trains and make a comprehensive safety check. This year alone, KTX high-speed trains have stopped 36 times for various reasons, including derailment and equipment malfunctions. This is an unmistakable sign that something is seriously wrong with Korail’s high-speed trains.

In a latest incident that took place on Sunday, a KTX train carrying some 400 passengers stopped abruptly inside a tunnel in Gimcheon on its way from Busan to Seoul. The train remained stranded for about an hour before resuming operations. It was a nightmare for the passengers who had to endure stifling heat in the dark tunnel. According to Korail, a malfunctioning motor appeared to be the cause of the stoppage.

Another KTX train that also left Busan for Seoul about three hours later had problems with its air conditioning system. Korail officials tried in vain to fix it for two hours, during which the 800 passengers had to travel sweating. In Daejeon, the passengers were transferred to another train.

Two days earlier, a KTX train that left Seoul with some 180 passengers on board was forced to stop in the southeastern city of Miryang as smoke began to rise from a back carriage. The passengers had to be evacuated and transferred to another train. Korail said the smoke was caused by a short circuit, a problem attributed to the train’s manufacturer, Hyundai Rotem.

Despite these seemingly endless stoppages, Korail continues to operate its faulty trains, ignoring passengers’ growing safety concerns. It keeps its head buried in the sand, simply hoping no major accident takes place. But passengers’ patience and tolerance have reached their limits. Some angry passengers are moving to file a collective complaint against the state-run rail service provider.

In May, Korail said it would undertake a thorough scrutiny of its trains to make its service as safe and comfortable as passenger airlines. But things have remained the same. As Korail is unable to make its KTX trains trouble-free, the government should intervene.

In this respect, the move by the Board of Audit and Inspection to conduct a special probe into Korail and its problem-plagued high-speed trains is welcome. The state auditor should waste no time examining the KTX trains and determining the causes of their frequent stoppages.

During its special inspection, the BAI needs to scrutinize the KTX-Sancheon trains, the locally built bullet trains that are particularly prone to problems. We hope the auditor comes up with comprehensive safety improvement measures based on its thorough diagnosis of the problems.
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