KTX high-speed train, South Korea

South Korea plans nationwide high-speed train network

South Korea's government wants to build a high-speed rail network that will bring most major cities within 90 minutes of each other.

A spokeswoman of the Ministry of Land, Transport and Maritime Affairs, Lee Jung Hae, said the government hoped the scheme would encourage people to commute by train instead of using private cars, potentially cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 7.7 million tons a year when the project is complete.

In line with this, high-speed train services that today link Seoul and cities in the southeast will be expanded across the country by 2020. Eighty-three per cent of South Korea’s population will have access to the high-speed train service travelling at speeds of about 230-250km/h. Currently the proportion is 60 per cent.

Construction of Korea's first high-speed line, the 412km Seoul-Busan link, began in 1992. The first phase opened for service in April 2004 with trains running on purpose-built line between Seoul and Daegu, then continuing on newly-electrified existing track to Busan.

Operated by Korea Train eXpress (KTX), the service is based on the French TGV/LGV system, designed for a top speed of 300km/h. Construction of a network covering 12 bullet train stations was completed in June 2010. Costing a massive $18 billion, it was the largest civil engineering project undertaken in Korean history.

Since KTX was launched, 11 of the country’s 14 airports have been in the red including four international ones as more people opt to travel by rail. Only Incheon, Jeju and Gimhae are profitable. A plan to build a new airport for Busan was abandoned.

The popularity of the high-speed train service prompted flag carrier Korean Air and Asiana Airlines to establish low cost airlines (LCAs) Jin Air and Air Busan respectively due to heavy losses suffered on domestic routes.

A Seoul-based analyst who declined to be named said it would not be surprising if some of the loss-making airports ceased operating following expansion of the high-speed rail network.

“It may also affect LCAs as these carriers operate with limited daily frequencies and on certain routes only,” the analyst added.

Currently five LCAs are operating on major domestic routes.

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