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Mokpo high speed line moves ahead

01 Jun 2007

Construction of South Korea's second high speed line starts this year, underlining the government's commitment to invest in the national network. The 230 km line will put the port city of Mokpo less than 2 h away from Seoul

PLANS to build a high speed line to Mokpo have existed for many years, but only now is the project moving ahead.

The South Korean government's decision to dust off the proposals and make a start on construction this year follows more than two years of commercial experience with 300 km/h KTX services on the busy corridor between Seoul and Pusan. Although traffic did not take off as dramatically as predicted after the April 2004 launch on what is known as the Gyeongbu line, there is little doubt about the success of KTX services. Now a second high speed route is set to transform rail travel between the capital and cities in the southwest.

South Korea's second high speed railway will leave the present Seoul - Taegu high speed alignment at Osong, between Chonan and Taejong. It will run southwest for 230 km to the port city of Mokpo, passing through South Kongju, Iksan, Chongup and Kwangju, all of which will be served by intermediate stations. Some sections will run parallel to the existing Honam line.

By parting company with the Seoul - Pusan route at Osong, 121·8 km from Seoul, the new line will be 90 km shorter than the existing route which branches off at Taejon. This will cut the distance from Seoul to Mokpo to 320 km, with trains offering a fastest journey time of just 1 h 46 min. The average speed of 181 km/h will be slightly below the fastest KTX services between Seoul and Taegu which achieve just under 190 km/h. Today's Saemaul trains cover the 410 km between Seoul and Mokpo in 2 h 58 min, giving a respectable average speed of 138 km/h.

As with the Gyeongbu line, the new line to Mokpo will be built in two phases, with Osong - Kwangju due for completion in 2015. The final section from Kwangju to Mokpo will be finished in 2017. Cost of the new line will be 10 500bn won.

The new Honam line forms a major element in the 2006-15 National Rail Network Construction Plan, which also includes completion of the final 128·8 km section of the Gyeongbu line from Taegu to Pusan by 2010. To save capital costs, the Gyeongbu line was built with gaps in the high speed alignment through the built-up areas in Taegu and Taejon, 54·4 km of new alignment are still to be built.

Apart from that, the project includes completion of a depot and workshop at Pusan with similar facilities to those at Goyang, 20 km north of Seoul, where the KTX fleet is currently maintained. The work could include workshop and siding extensions to accommodate trains of up to 27 cars if proposals are taken forward to lengthen the existing fleet. Cost of the second phase of the Gyeongbu line is put at 5 657bn won.

Rolling stock research

The government has recognised the need for sustained investment in railway research, the main beneficiary so far being Korea Railroad Research Institute. KRRI has been instrumental in the development of the TTX 200 km/h tilting train with the six-car prototype due to be rolled out by the end of the year - 200 km/h will become the norm on South Korea's main lines in the future.

Responsible for the prototype 350X Korean High Speed Train, KRRI will share in a US$306m order placed by Korail with Rotem on June 9, for 100 HSR-350X vehicles. These will form 10 trainsets - six to enter service on the Honam line in 2009 and four for use on the Cholla line between Iksan and Yeosu from 2010. KRRI has also announced plans to develop a train able to operate at 400 km/h (RG 9.06 p485).

Academic institutions and industry may also receive significant funding in the future as the government has stated publicly that it wishes to 'enforce a coalition' between industry, academia and R&D organisations.


Other projects in the National Rail Network Construction Plan include electrification and double-tracking, as well as more new lines. Just under 40% of the South Korean network was electrified in 2004, and the proportion will rise to over 55% by 2010. As many as 13 routes totalling 740 km have been designated for electrification or other improvements by 2010, with four routes totalling 279 km due to be doubled and electrified by 2015.

The percentage of double track route will rise from 38% in 2004 to 55% by 2010, and no fewer than 10 new lines totalling 524 km will be constructed by 2010. In very broad terms, there will be a grid of six north-south and six east-west lines so that nearly all major towns and cities have access to the rail network.

Behind the government's clear commitment to develop rail services lie several objectives. These include balanced regional development, a reduction in the level of road traffic in large cities and environmental improvements. An official target has been set to raise rail's market share of passenger travel from 8·6% in 2002 to 12·3% by 2015.

On regional and suburban networks the current market share of 23·4% is projected to rise to 40% by 2020, with average speeds increasing from 30 to 35 km/h to 50 km/h or more. As many as 11 different projects to improve the suburban network are currently in hand in the greater Seoul region, with one major scheme in Pusan.

Other targets are to improve rail's safety record from 0·36 significant accidents per million train-km in 2004 to 0·21 by 2010 thanks to a 'comprehensive railway safety plan' that will include improved staff training and the introduction of more modern equipment. Korail's financial losses which amounted to more than 1bn won in 2005 are to be eliminated by 2013.

Construction of conventional main lines qualifies for 100% government funding, but the intention is for an operating concessionaire to contribute up to 65% of the cost of high speed lines - although it is not clear if this will apply to the new Honam line. National government will fund 75% of the cost of building suburban or regional lines, with the other 25% expected to come from local government. The share to be contributed by local government for metro routes is 40%.

Models to be used include the US$3·5bn BOT project to build the 58 km Incheon Airport railway, the first stage of which is due to open in March 2007 (RG 5.04 p298) and the remainder by 2010. BOT is also envisaged for light rail projects in Gimhae and Gwangmyeong. Build-transfer-lease schemes are being proposed for three other lines.

CAPTION: KTX services were launched on the Seoul - Taegu - Pusan route in April 2004. Rolling stock consists of 20-car trainsets developed from SNCF's TGV Réseau fleet

CAPTION: Leaving the Seoul - Taegu high speed line at Osong, South Korea's second high speed line will spread the benefits of 300 km/h train travel to Mokpo and other cities in the southwest