Train to Busan: South Korea’s new high speed rail is a gamechanger for tourists

Supreme Railways (SR) launched its super rapid trains last week. Pic: Railway Gazette

IN the past decade, South Korea has been heavily dependent on Korail, the country’s national railroad operator that runs commuter, subway, intercity and freight trains throughout the country.

But last week, Supreme Railways (SR) launched its super rapid trains (SRT) to popular locations including Seoul, Busan, Daegu, Daejeon, and Gwangju. SR’s routes may not be as extensive as Korail’s, but the new service cuts travel time and offers cheaper tickets by an average of 10 percent.

A direct ride from Seoul to Busan will only take two hours and nine minutes at 52,200 won (about US$45) compared to Korail’s KTX service that takes two hours and 34 minutes at 59,800 won (about US$51).

Korea Herald reported that the new trains offer guests ample legroom in both the first class and economy cabins, shared power outlets for laptop or phone chargers, and a pleasant interior design.

Meanwhile, tourists traveling interstate will be departing and arriving at Suseo Station in the Gangnam district, a less crowded option compared to Seoul Station.

SR CEO Kim Bok-hwan wrote in a statement: “Finally 2016 will mark the start of the ‘customers can make a selection’ generation when it comes to taking the train.”

SR is opening up the future by offering safer, more reliable and more comfortable trains to the Korean railway industry.”

Korail president and CEO Dr Choi Yeon-Hye said Korail is preparing to adapt to the prospect of operating alongside a direct competitor.

Pic: Railway Gazette

She said, “The aim of the new service is to create greater demand that will increase rail’s national transport market share.”

It will aid efforts to offer flexible transport strategies and improvements to customer service based on accumulated operation know-how. Korail will also strengthen its collaboration with the government and SR to stabilise train operation on shared lines.”

To deal with the end of its monopoly on the country’s rail services, Korail is offering new discounts and rewards systems to retain loyal patronage.

At the moment, SR’s fleet is made up of 10 new trains and 22 trains leased from Korail which are due to transfer to SR’s ownership by the end of the year.

Construction on the line took four years and is measured at 61.1 km. The line also includes a 50.3 km tunnel, the world’s third longest, that runs from Suseo to Jije.

The introduction of SR will also see less tourists opting for domestic flights with rail services proving to be cheaper and quicker.

A one-way journey from Seoul to Busan by air is around the US$60 mark and takes approximately 55 minutes without taking into account time for check-in and boarding.

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