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Korean-Made Bullet Trains to Open New Era of Railways
The KTX-II will open for services later this year at the earliest on the KTX Honam Line, high-speed railway between Seoul and Mokpo, South Jeolla Province. / Korea Times
By Do Je-hae
Korea recently celebrated the 110th anniversary of the installation of what would become an indispensable tool for the nation's industrialization ¯ the railway.
The first rail service here began on Sept. 18, 1899 on the 33.2 km-Geyongin Line, connecting Noryangjin, in central Seoul, to Jemulpo, now known as Incheon, with trains travelling at 20 km/h.
More than a century later, Korea has become a one of the global frontrunners in the railway industry. It is one of the handful countries in the world ¯ after Japan, France and Germany ¯ that has the capacity to build and operate a 350 km/h high-speed train, known as the KTX-II, which will start running in the next few months.
Korea has held celebrations to pay tribute to the distinctive role of the railway in modernizing the country every September.
``We highly acknowledge the incredible achievement Korea has made in the railway industry,'' Jean-Pierre Loubinoux, director general of the International Union of Railways said. ``We will fully support the introduction of Korea's railway expertise to other parts of the world, including Europe and Brazil.''
He was speaking at a ceremony in Daejeon last week marking the 110th ``Railway Day,'' celebrated at the initiative of the Ministry of Land, Transport and Maritime Affairs and the Korea Railroad Corporation, commonly known as KORAIL.
KORAIL operates all long-distance, high-speed lines, as well as most local ones. The Gyeongbu Line, connecting Seoul and Busan, is by far the most heavily travelled.
``We believe KORAIL has the capacity to participate in major railway projects worldwide,'' Loubinoux added.
Founded in 1922, the international rail transport industry body is commonly referred to as the UIC after its French name, ``Union Internationale des Chemins de Fer.'' It currently has a membership of 199 countries, with Korea being one of its active members with Russia, China, Japan, and Europe.
Loubinoux met with Huh Joon-young, KORAIL president, to discuss areas of co-operation, namely the forthcoming UIC conferences and workshops to be held in Daejeon from Nov. 17 to 20.
This year is a landmark for the KORAIL, because, it has, for the first time since founding in the 1960s, its own independent building outside its former residence in the Daejeon Government Complex.
KORAIL moved into its new building adjacent to Daejeon Station on Sept. 18, symbolizing the complete privatization of a public corporation that had remained under state supervision and management until 2005.
``For the last 110 years, our railways have led the nation's economic development and served our people in their daily lives,'' Huh said at a ceremony to mark the opening of their new headquarters.
``We will now take part in the nation's green growth initiatives with next generation railway facilities, with an emphasis on eco-friendliness and energy efficiency.'' he added.
International Rail Projects
One of the landmark occasions in the history of the Korean railway was the launch of the KTX trains in 2004, modelled after the French TGV.
Korea is currently one of the four countries in the world that can independently produce high speed trains which run at the maximum speed of 350 km/h. A bullet train usually runs over 200 km/h.
Running at 300 km/h maximum for safety, the KTX-II will begin services later this year on the KTX Honam Line, high-speed railway between Seoul and Mokpo, South Jeolla Province.
Because of the economic, environmental and every-day benefits of high-speed rail systems, many countries are placing a priority on their development, with some referencing Korean models.
Brazil, for example, is meeting with Seoul officials this week at the Korea Railroad Research Institute (KRRI), based in Gyeonggi Province, to discuss joint efforts to develop the Brazilian TAV system technology.
TAV Brazil is a Brazilian high speed rail scheme, spanning 512 km and connecting Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro.
Minister Chung Jong-hwan met with a high-level parliamentary delegation from Brazil, Monday amidst fierce global competition for the 2 billion won project.
Last year, five Korean organizations ¯ KRRI, KORAIL, the Korea Rail Network Authority, Hyundai Rotem, and Sunkoo Engineering ¯ jointly formed the ``Promotion Committee for the Brazilian High-Speed Railway Project.''
Based on a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with 15 countries, KRRI has actively conducted joint research projects with China, Japan, Russia and others.
Researchers in Korea and Russia have been talking about the development of the Euro-Asian continental railway network.
They have looked into the feasibility of long-term projects, such as linking Korea's railway lines to the Trans-Siberian Railway (TSR), a network of railways connecting Moscow and European Russia with the Russian Far East provinces, Mongolia, China and the East Sea.
Researchers in Russia and Korea have also engaged in discussion to connect the railways of the two Koreas.
The ministry and the Presidential Committee on Regional Development are conducting a feasibility study on a Korea-China or a Korea-Japan undersea railway, proposed by Gyeonggi Province.
Additionally, Korea has spent a significant part of its ODA (Official Development Assistance) to advancing railway infrastructures in underdeveloped countries.
Domestic Rail Growth
Since 1899, Korea's trains have become faster and have become a routine presence in the lives of most Koreans. However, the railway infrastructure has remained largely unchanged despite some additional lines.
The total length of railways is 3,383 km, which is only slightly longer than that during Japanese colonial rule (1910-1945).
Some experts have expressed concerns that Korea does not place as much policy priority on expanding railway infrastructure as others.
``Countries like Japan place equal priority on highways and railways. As one of the world's top producers of high-speed trains, we need fresh momentum in rail growth'' said a senior researcher with a provincial economic research institute in South Jeolla.
Various parts of the country are undergoing construction for new train facilities.
The Honam High-speed Railway is currently being built. When completed in 2014, it will be a 90-minute ride by KTX from Seoul to Gwangju.
The ministry is considering the introduction of the ``Great Train Express'' (GTX) project to build a new underground railway in the greater metropolitan region. The GTX will run at around 120 km/h, three times faster than existing subways.
The National Assembly has been putting forth fresh ideas for rail growth.
Lawmakers have been proposing the necessity of the East-West railway, linking the country's eastern and western industrial cities for economic synergy and regional unity; and the Honam-Jeju underground railway, aimed at serving as a new tool for growth for two of the most underdeveloped parts of the nation located in the south-western part of the Peninsula.