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[Editorial] KTX safety checks

Korea Railroad Corp. has finally addressed growing public concern about the safety of its accident-prone KTX bullet trains. KORAIL said Thursday it would reduce operations of its high-speed trains for a comprehensive safety check. A day earlier, it ordered Hyundai Rotem to recall all of the 19 KTX-Sancheon trains in operation for thorough inspection.

The recall order came after inspectors found defects in one of the KTX-Sancheon trains, a latest model developed by Hyundai Rotem using in-house technology. Inspectors discovered cracks in the devices that locked a motor decelerator into position on the underbody of No. 2 KTX-Sanchon. If a decelerator, which weighs half a ton, fell out while a train was running at full tilt ―- 300 km per hour ―- it could lead to derailment and a major accident.

KORAIL should have taken action much earlier, given the recent surge in the number of accidents. Frequent accidents have already given a bad name to its high-speed rail service.

The surge in KTX train accidents began last year. Between 2007 and 2009, the number of accidents per year averaged 26. The figure rose to 53 in 2010. This year, it has already reached 27.

Of the 80 accidents since last year, 41 involved KTX-Sancheon trains, which began commercial service in March last year. This raises the allegation that Hyundai Rotem supplied its new trains to KORAIL without conducting sufficient trial operations to minimize defects.

Given the large number of parts and sophisticated technology used to produce a bullet train, minor accidents are unavoidable during the early period of commercial service. But when accidents occur and problems are found, the operator and the manufacturer of the trains should promptly take safety measures to prevent full-scale accidents. In this respect, the response of KORAIL and Hyundai Rotem has failed to meet the public’s expectations.

Hyundai Rotem is currently promoting exports of the KTX-Sancheon model. To sell the trains to foreign countries, it needs to make them safer and reduce the accident rate.