Failure to tighten screw blamed for derailment
KTX cars stand derailed inside a tunnel near Gwangmyeong Station in Gyeonggi Province, Friday. According to government inspectors, a screw on a railway switching device installed at the station was not properly tightened following repair work and caused the derailment. / Yonhap
By Lee Hyo-sik
The derailment of a KTX bullet train near Gwangmyeong Station last week was attributed to a combination of improper maintenance by a subcontractor and mishandling of faulty signal equipment by Korail officials.
In a press briefing at its headquarters in Daejeon Monday, Korail said the direct cause of the accident was a dysfunctional rail switching system, with the malfunction caused by a missing nut in a terminal box.
Korail officials at the control center ignored the faulty signals from the switching system, resulting in the derailment which might have been disastrous if it had taken place while the train was running at full speed.
``We think that conflicting signals between the switching device and a signal light put the KTX on the wrong rail track,” Korail spokesman Kim Heung-sung said.
He said maintenance workers from a subcontracting company lost a nut while fixing a terminal box, adding they closed the lid on the box without replacing the nut.
“Currently, a fact-finding committee is looking into how and why the train was derailed. When the investigation is completed, we will be able to clarify who was responsible for the accident.’’
He said the railway operator will make all-out efforts to help find the cause and ease public concerns over the safety of KTX trains.
At around 1:05 p.m. last Friday, the high-speed KTX train, bound for Seoul from Busan, stopped in a tunnel about 300 meters from Gwangmyeong Station in Gyeonggi Province after the rear six cars out of a total of 10 left the rails. This was the first time that a bullet train has been derailed since the beginning of operations in 2004.
No major casualties were reported, with only one passenger sustaining a minor injury. The train was also comprised of special cars exclusively for the head of state, but at the time of the incident, President Lee Myung-bak was not onboard.
In the aftermath of the mishap, many KTX passengers have expressed concerns over the safety of the nation’s bullet train system, with some opting to take a bus or other means of transportation.
Along with frequent breakdowns of the latest ``KTX-Sancheon,’’ the derailment is feared to negatively affect Korea’s efforts to win multi-billion dollar projects in Brazil, the United States and other countries to construct and operate bullet-train systems.
Is KTX safe?
Korail resumed the operation of KTX trains at 6 p.m. Saturday on both northbound and southbound lines, 29 hours after the incident.
The derailment increasingly resembles a disaster caused by human error, according to the ministry.
Between midnight and 4 a.m. Friday, Korail mechanics were dispatched to check a device that controls the switching of a rail tracks inside the tunnel near Gwangmyeong Station.
Some passengers and other skeptics are also raising issues with the KTX Sancheon itself, which has been involved in a series of glitches in recent months.
It is a model which was developed and manufactured last year by Hyundai Rotem, using domestic technology.
Since the new model was put into operation in March, there have been 12 operational failures, igniting concerns regarding capability and passenger safety.
A 38-year-old male passenger who frequently travels between Seoul and Ulsan via KTX for business expressed his concerns.
``There have been a series of delays involving the KTX-Sancheon over the past few months. But the latest derailment has made me even more uneasy about riding the KTX.’’
Unsurprisingly, scores of operational breakdowns and the latest derailment are feared to have a negative impact on Korea’s efforts to export high-speed trains, railroad construction, and operational management skills.
Korail has teamed up with the Korea Rail Network Authority, Hyundai Rotem and many local construction companies to build bullet-train systems overseas.
They are currently competing with rivals from Japan, China, France and other countries with high-speed train companies 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 various developing countries around the world.