KTX Is a Disaster Waiting to Happen

      February 17, 2009 12:59

      Parts of the cement sleepers supporting the rails of the Daegu-Busan segment of the KTX high-speed train have developed cracks. If the sleepers, which support the weights of the trains and the rails, are damaged, then the rails themselves could twist, leading to catastrophic accidents as trains derail at speeds of 300 km/h. In other words, there are fatal safety flaws in the W7 trillion bullet train (US$1=W1,427).

      Out of around 153,000 sleepers that have been laid so far, 332 have developed cracks. And all of them pose dangers because all of the bolts that go into the sleepers have been discovered to be defective. According to blueprints, waterproofing materials are supposed to be used to prevent water from seeping in between the bolts but they were not used, so the components absorbed rainwater, which expanded after freezing, causing the cracks to form. All 153,000 ties used the defective components, including the 332 that have developed cracks. So even those ties that seem to be in one piece could end up cracking any time.

      The manufacturer that produced the components did not follow the blueprints and the company that made the sleepers did not bother to check for defects. And the overall contractor and even the company that supervised the entire project simply did not check the quality of the individual parts. If even one of them had done their job properly, none of this would have happened. How could a massive state-led project that cost astronomical amounts of taxpayers' money be handled so carelessly? The only good thing is that a major catastrophe was avoided since this problem was detected during the construction stage.

      Aside from the cracks, safety concerns are being raised over fastening clips that connect the rails and sleepers. The clips produced by Pandrol, the British manufacturer selected to supply the products for the Daegu-Busan segment of the KTX, are said to have never been used in high-speed rails serving trains traveling at 300 km/h. The Board of Audit and Inspection pointed out in 2007 that Pandrol's fasteners, which have yet to prove themselves in terms of safety on high-speed rails, could cause problems such as twisting or actual damage to the tracks.

      Construction on the KTX rail began recklessly in 1992, even before a type of train was decided and without even a blueprint for construction. The result was the repair of 190 locations and the partial reconstruction of 39 spots along the KTX route, following a detailed safety inspection by an American company in 1996. At that time, the government pledged to maintain the highest safety standards by mobilizing inspection crews and other measures. But the second phase of construction has again revealed a major flaw. The people responsible for this debacle should be identified, and the government must come up with a comprehensive plan to prevent state-run projects from being plagued by shoddy construction.

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