Malfunctioning feared to derail Korea's bullet train export
By Lee Hyo-sik
Korail, the state-run railroad operator, is drawing fire for a series of malfunctioning glitches dogging Korea’s bullet train KTX in recent months.
It has raised safety concerns as a growing number of Koreans take the high-speed train to travel across the country.
Additionally, frequent breakdowns of the latest “KTX-Sancheon” is feared to negatively affect Korea’s efforts to win multi-billion dollar projects in Brazil, the United States and other countries to construct a bullet-train system.
A KTX-Sancheon, which departed from Seoul Station at 7:30 a.m. on Wednesday for Busan, arrived at the Cheonan-Asan Station at 8:04 a.m. The bullet train is manufactured by Hyundai Rotem.
There it developed mechanical trouble and left the station six minutes behind schedule. Later the troubled train ran into the same problem again near Daejeon Station and barely made it to Daegu Station.
Fearing further failures, Korail, headed by CEO Huh Joon-young, decided to ask the nearly 300 passengers onboard the malfunctioning KTX to transfer to an incoming train.
On Oct. 13, a KTX also abruptly stopped inside a 20.3-kilometers-long tunnel on the newly constructed Daegu-Busan line during a test-run. Since the new model of the KTX was put into operation in March, there have been 12 operational failures, raising concerns of its capability and passenger safety.
Korail has not been able to pinpoint the exact cause and has no plan to suspend the operation of the KTX-Sancheon, meaning that the same delays may continue to occur at any time.
“Given the fact that the KTX-Sancheon has been in operation for only eight months, there could be many minor operational glitches. The problems we are dealing with do not threaten passenger safety. In cooperation with Hyundai Rotem, our engineers are doing their best to fix the malfunctions as quickly as possible,” said Lim Seok-gyu, director of Korail’s public relations office.
Yet scores of operational breakdowns are feared to have a negative impact on Korea’s efforts to export its high-speed trains, railroad construction, and operational management skills.
Korail has been teaming up with the Korea Rail Network Authority, Hyundai Rotem and many local construction companies to build a bullet-train system overseas.
They are currently competing with rivals from Japan, China, France and other high-speed train operating countries to win a contract in Brazil to undertake a $20 billion rail project. The Korean consortium is also trying to win a bid to build a bullet-train system in the U.S. state of California and in developing countries around the world.
In response Lim has said the ongoing KTX problem will not affect Korea’s efforts to export its high-speed train system.
“For instance, Chinese companies are trying to hide their defects and do not disclose any negative information. But we are making all the information public. Our transparent and open management stance will be highly regarded and allow us to be deemed a trustworthy business partner by foreign countries.”
Meanwhile, there have been growing concerns over the newly-built Daegu-Busan line, scheduled to open on Nov. 1, as there are many bridges and tunnels.
The 128.6 kilometer-long high-speed railroad has 54 bridges and 38 tunnels. Poor construction of the rail tracks and other structures built by the Korea Rail Network Authority under a tight schedule to complete the line is thought to have made it fraught with risks.
코레일, 잦은 KTX 고장으로 맹비난
국철 코레일이 최근 수개 월 KTX 총알 열차의 문제가 된 잇단 고장으로 비난의 표적이 되고 있다.
이 고속 열차를 타고 전국을 여행하는 국민이 점점 늘어남에 따라 이는 안전문제를 제기했다.
특히 최근 잦은 “KTX-산천”호의 고장은 브라질, 미국 등 여타국가에서 이 고속열차 시스템을 건설하는 수십억 달러 짜리 공사를 수주하는데 부정적인 영향을 주지 않을까 우려된다.
지난 수요일 아침 7시 30분 서울역을 출발한 부산발 KTX-산천호 는 8시 4분 천안-아산역에 도착했다. 이 총알열차는 현대 로템이 제작한 것이다.
이 역에서 기계상의 고장을 일으켜 예정보다 6분 늦게 출발했다. 이어 이 문제의 열차는 대전역 인근에서 유사한 고장이 또 발생 가까스로 대구역에 도착했다.
고장이 또 날까 봐 코레일(사장 허준영)측은 이 문제의 열차의 300명 가까운 승객에게 뒤에 오는 차로 갈아탈 것을 요청했다.
10월 13일 또 시험운행이긴 하지만 KTX 한 대가 갑자기 새로 준공한 대구-부산 구간에 있는 20.3km의 터널 안에서 섰다. 지난 3월 이 새 모델을 투입한 이후 12차례나 이 같은 고장이 발생해 이 KTX 모델의 성능과 승객 안전에 관한 우려가 제기됐다.
그러나 코레일측은 정확한 고장 원인을 잡아낼 수 없으면서 이 산천호의 운행을 중단할 계획이 없어 언제든지 유사한 고장으로 지연이 계속 나올 것을 의미한다.