KORAIL, the nation’s state-run railway operator, is facing public criticism over its response to a train collision on Saturday.
Two passenger trains collided near Daegu Station at 7:14 a.m. on Saturday, disrupting rail traffic between Seoul and Busan. A third train later crashed into the two stationary vehicles. The cause of the accident had yet to be confirmed as of Sunday afternoon.
|A Korea Train Express II high-speed train. (Bloomberg)|
No one was seriously injured in the crash, but passengers on board the trains expressed outrage over what they said was a lack of swift and appropriate follow-up measures by the railroad operator. According to news reports, KORAIL failed to provide an explanation to passengers about what had happened and how to transfer to reach their destination. The company is now expected to face investigation by the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport. The ministry said it would take “strong” measures following a probe to prevent a similar accident from happening again. Rail services between Seoul and Busan were restored on Sunday afternoon.
Train breakdowns or crashes have been on the rise for the past decade since 2003 when the government split up KORAIL’s two major functions of operations and maintenance, aiming to improve efficiency in the railway industry and lower KORAIL’s high debt ratio. For the past decade, KORAIL has only been responsible for operations of the nation’s railway network ― except the metropolitan railways ― while state-run Korea Rail Network Authority has been in charge of railway construction and maintenance.
The dual system, however, has weakened the supervision of train operations as the railway operator has put more focus on profit to lower its high debt ratio, industry watchers claimed.
Despite the split system, KORAIL has failed to make progress in improving its financial health. KORAIL’s overall debt reached 11.6 trillion won ($10 billion) at the end of last year, with the company losing between 400 billion won and 500 billion won annually, according to Transport Ministry data.
To prevent repeated train accidents or breakdowns and to improve its financial health, KORAIL has called for its integration with Korea Rail Network Authority. But the ministry has opposed the proposal as it aims to bring more competition into the industry.
The railway industry reform plan, unveiled by the ministry in June this year, proposes that KORAIL adopt a holding company structure and create more subsidiaries under its roof, enticing more private investors to those firms.
By Seo Jee-yeon (firstname.lastname@example.org