High speed rail boosts South Korea's business

High speed rail in South Korea
November 15, 2011 7:27:26 PM PST
ABC7's Cheryl Jennings paid a visit to South Korea recently and took a ride on the high speed rail system there. It took decades to get done and faced a great deal of opposition, but it has forever changed travel and business in South Korea.

The KTX is the high speed Korean train express in South Korea with two rail lines that connect the entire country, from the biggest city, Seoul, to the second biggest city, Busan.

"From Seoul to Busan, it takes like 5 and 1/2 hours by car, but it takes only less than 3 hours, so they take KTX," said Park Kyungsun, the international affairs general manager for Korail.

I started at Seoul Station, one of the busiest transit stations in the world. It's a place where America hopes to sell Koreans on Chevys and where Korea has something it wants to sell to America -- the KTX. Tech savvy travelers can pay for tickets by cellphone with an app called Glory.

"You can choose your destination and type in your train and starting time and departure," said Kyungsun.

I checked out first class, complete with food and beverage service for the ride from Seoul to the headquarters of Korail, the company that makes the KTX. It is very quiet, very comfortable and goes very fast. The train is designed to go 220 miles an hour, but the maximum speed they run it at is 190 and even at that speed, the landscape just flies by.

According to the director of international affairs for Korail, Ahn B.O., ridership was only 72,000 passengers when the KTX started running in 2004.

"Now, it's almost doubled. We're transporting 140,000 passengers a day," said B.O.

The journey to get high speed rail in South Korea took nearly 40 years.

"It took a long, long, long time," said B.O.

"We estimated about $5 billion for the whole project, but it turned out to be four times bigger -- $20 billion," said Jeong Gwan Lee from the Korean Consul General in San Francisco.

"It took 12 years. Eleven years for the construction work and one year for the test operation," said B.O.

"Obviously, it created a lot of job opportunities in Korea and it actually sparked the Korean economy a lot," said Lee.

Korail has a lot to smile about now. The KTX has carried more 260 million passengers since service began seven years ago and dramatically improved Korea's economy.

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