SEOUL : Two subway trains collided in Seoul on Friday, lightly injuring 200 people and further undermining public confidence just weeks after South Korea’s ferry disaster claimed the lives of hundreds of schoolchildren.
Briefing reporters, fire department official Kim Kyung-Soo said of the 200 injured on Friday, only an elderly woman with a fracture was seriously hurt. More than 150 received some sort of treatment but mostly for minor cuts or sprains, he said. News of the accident broke with the country still reeling from the April 16 ferry tragedy that left 300 dead or missing - most of them high school students - after the ship capsized and sank.
The disaster triggered widespread public anger and a bout of national soul-searching as to whether South Korea - now Asia’s fourth-largest economy - sacrificed safety standards in its rush for development.
The subway accident happened around 3:30 pm (0630 GMT) when a moving train slammed into the rear of a stationary train at Sangwangsimni station in eastern Seoul.
Around 1,000 people were evacuated from the two trains, Kim said, adding that many of those hurt had complained of ankle injuries, cuts and bruises. According to senior Seoul Metro official Chung Soo-Young, initial investigations suggested the automated stopping system that should prevent a train getting too close to another appeared to have failed.
The tunnel curves before entering Sangwangsimni station and Chung said the driver of the moving train did not see the platform was occupied until quite late. He applied the emergency break, but the distance was ‘too short’ to avoid a collision, Chung said. The two last cars of the stationary train appeared to have been thrown off the rails by the force of the impact, and TV footage showed cracked windows on the two trains and one door connecting two carriages that had been completely knocked off its hinges.
Seoul’s subway network is one of the busiest in the world, carrying around 5.25 million passengers a day, according to official data from City Hall. Although there were no fatalities, the accident will likely fuel public criticism of the government for lax safety standards caused by the alleged collusion of transport companies and state regulators. President Park Geun-Hye’s approval ratings, which have been impressively high since she took office a little over a year ago, have fallen by around 11 percentage points in the wake of the ferry disaster, according to Gallup Korea.