The derailment of a KTX train on Saturday revealed the easygoing attitude of its operator Korail and the Moon Jae-in administration.
An investigation panel of the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport said after its initial inspection that the derailment was likely caused by an improper connection of circuit cables to railroad switches, which send go or stop signals to trains, like traffic lights.
Experts say the error could have been discovered quickly if the switches had been tested as recommended in the manual. That is to say the accident was caused by human error and was therefore preventable.
We cannot but wonder if Korail is negligent in checking its facilities.
As of August, 10,087 railway switches were installed, and replacement was overdue for about 40 percent of them. Checks of all the outdated switches, as well as other equipment, are urgent.
The accident also revealed what Land, Infrastructure and Transport Minister Kim Hyun-mee has on her mind.
On Nov. 30, Kim attended a ceremony to initiate a joint inter-Korean group’s inspection of obsolete North Korean railroad tracks for a possible railroad connection across the border. However, she arrived at the scene of Saturday’s derailment a day after the accident, which could have caused many deaths.
During her inspection of the site, she said she felt ashamed of this level of railroad operation, with which South Korea seeks to connect its railroads with North Korea’s. It was inappropriate to mention the connection of inter-Korean railroads in a situation like this.
Safety must come first when it comes to railway operations, but it seems she might be too preoccupied with other issues to pay attention to the prevention of accidents.
The Moon administration and Korail appear to be unresponsive to accidents. A recent series of train accidents had raised the alarm before the derailment incident, but a serious accident still occurred.
On Nov. 19, a KTX train rammed an excavator used for railroad maintenance work as it entered Seoul Station. It was an outrageous accident caused by a failure to coordinate the repair work and train operation schedules.
On the following day, the operation of KTX trains on the Seoul-to-Busan route was delayed because of a power outage at Osong Station in North Chungcheong Province.
Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon visited the headquarters of Korail on Dec. 5 to discuss the Osong Station accident, and he instructed the leadership to take measures to prevent any recurrence.
Three days later, the KTX train derailment occurred.
In the past three weeks, 10 railway accidents, including seven KTX train accidents, have taken place. This casts doubt on whether Korail is capable of operating trains safely. However, the responsibility ultimately lies with the current administration.
According to Rep. Lee Hag-jae of the Bareunmirae Party, 35 percent of board members of Korail and its five subsidiaries were appointed during the days of the Moon administration. Their careers had little to do with railway operations. They had worked for Moon’s presidential election campaign, the ruling party or the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions.
Korail CEO Oh Young-sik, who resigned Tuesday to take responsibility for the series of accidents, is a former ruling party lawmaker who worked for Moon’s campaign last year.
Soon after taking office in February, he reinstated former union members sacked for illegal strikes. He has pushed for the reintegration of Korail with Supreme Railways -- a move that would eliminate competition in the high-speed train market.
His pro-labor, pro-government management may have resulted in negligence among employees, which may have caused the repeat accidents.
Accidents are likely to happen again unless incompetent Korail executives are replaced and Minister Kim pays more attention to safety.
Before another accident happens, the Moon administration and Korail must recheck all issues from scratch, including the appointment of nonexpert outsiders, negligence, faulty repair and maintenance.