INTRO: French consultants have been involved with South Korea’s high speed line project for the past decade, reviewing engineering designs, training staff and helping to commission the TGV-derived trainsets

BYLINE: Jean-Pierre Loubinoux

President & Director General

SNCF International

APRIL 2004 will see the long-awaited start of revenue services on South Korea’s first high speed line. The 223·6 km route from Seoul to Taegu forms the first phase of a new corridor linking the capital to the principal port of Pusan in the south of the country, which is now scheduled for completion in 2008. Being built to international standards, the 300 km/h line will cut the current 4h10min journey time for the 412 km between the country’s two largest cities to 2h 40min when the first phase has been completed.

Plans for a high speed railway between Seoul and Pusan were first put forward in the 1980s. Following two years of competition between Japanese, German and French manufacturers, Korea High Speed Rail Construction Authority opted to use TGV technology, and in 1993 a contract was awarded to a consortium led by GEC Alsthom.

A difficult period followed. The project began to slip behind schedule, and the government came close to abandoning it altogether. Key completion dates were put back by four years, and the estimated cost more than doubled. This is perhaps not surprising when geography and the monsoon climate are taken into account, as it has proved necessary to build almost all of the line on bridges and viaducts or in tunnels.

Immediately after winning the 1998 election President Kim Dae-Jung asked his administration to re-examine the whole project. Following consultations, the government decided to adopt a new timetable for construction, rather than abandon work.

The first phase of the line has been split into three sections. The central 57·2 km between Chonan and Taejon was built first, to act as a test track. The first official test run was carried out on December 16 1999 in the presence of President Kim, with a trainset running at 213 km/h over an initial 34·4 km section (RG 2.00 p83). The entire Chonan - Taejon section has now been completed, including installation of electrification and TVM 430 signalling, and trains are now being tested at 300 km/h.

The remainder of the first phase encompasses the northern and southern sections. The 77·4 km Section A covers the northern stretches between Seoul and Chonan, which will be completed by the end of this year. Section B runs for around 130 km from Taejon to Taegu, and will be ready for the start of commercial services in April 2004.

Until Phase 2 is completed, the high speed trains will continue to Pusan over an upgraded section of the existing main line. In September 1999 KNR awarded SNCF International a contract to advise on upgrading and electrification at 2 x 25 kV 60Hz of the 118·3 km between Taegu and Pusan.

International co-operation

French National Railways was developing its relationship with Korean National Railroad at the time the first proposals were being drawn up, and a KNR delegation was invited to ride on a pre-commissioning high speed test run on TGV Atlantique. SNCF seconded a consultant to the French embassy in Seoul, providing a permanent technical representative to liaise with the South Korean authorities.

Responsibility for advising KTX passed to SNCF International when the railway’s wholly-owned subsidiary was established in 1998, and represents our first large Asian contract. SNCF International was formed to assist with the construction, franchising, operation and maintenance of railways outside France. We provide technical assistance both alone and in conjunction with other SNCF Group subsidiaries, and frequently work in partnership with the French supply industry in countries as diverse as Congo, India, the Netherlands, Romania and Taiwan.

As soon as KHRC announced its decision to adopt French technology, lead contractor Alstom began work on the core systems contract, which covers signalling, electrical power and the supply of 46 trainsets. To manage the project the Eukorail consortium was established by Alstom and 12 other French companies, including CSEE Transport and Cogifer, with five South Korean firms.

Eukorail teams have also defined the maintenance policy to be implemented for KTX rolling stock and the overhead line and signalling equipment. Maintenance and users’ manuals have been drafted, and Korean managers and supervisors have been trained at TGV maintenance depots in France. A Simkor driving simulator built by Cory-Tess has been supplied to KNR, where it is installed at the Chulto college in Pugok.

Since February 1995 a series of services contracts associated with the main construction works have been let to SNCF’s engineering consultancy subsidiary Systra. This company has acted as engineering advisor to KHRC, reviewing the design of a great part of the line and carrying out detailed studies of track and 130 km of bridges. It has worked with Korean research institutes to study station design, and supervised the tracklaying.

The first 12 Korean Train eXpress (KTX) trains were built at Alstom’s La Rochelle and Belfort plants in France, and pre-production set PS1 was officially handed over to Prime Minister Kim Jong-Pil in Paris on July 11 1998, during a period of testing at over 300 km/h on LGV Nord. The first production train was shipped to South Korea in March 1998, and all 12 French-built sets have now been delivered, tested and accepted. The remaining 34 trains are being produced by Rotem (formerly Koros) in Changwon, under a comprehensive technology transfer agreement.

KHRC called tenders in June 2000 for the supervision of rolling stock testing and type approval, and SNCF International’s technical proposal was selected. We are now acting as a neutral third party for the supervision of train acceptance testing, and also assisting KHRC with qualification tests.

So far 30 of the 46 trainsets have been factory-accepted under our supervision, and test running of the first Korean-built trainset is currently underway. Seven of our consultants will be based in South Korea until early next year, and they are working closely with their Korean counterparts to develop a smooth working relationship across the language barrier.

Since 2001 SNCF International has been hosting groups of KNR managers on training programmes in France. Around 350 Koreans have now attended our courses, covering a wide range of specialist topics such as infrastructure maintenance, station management, traffic control and safety, rolling stock maintenance and high speed operations.

Throughout the project we have been able to draw on our experience as a partner or subcontractor in other high speed rail projects around the world, including in Taiwan, China, Spain and in the USA.

KHRC is currently tendering another, much broader, contract for assistance with commissioning of the complete system. SNCF International hopes to remain involved in the maintenance and operation of the high speed and upgraded conventional lines in the longer term.

Longer term strategy

Completion of the high speed line between Seoul and Taegu next year will not be the end of the project. Civil engineering work has already started on the 118·3 km Phase 2 between Taegu and Pusan via Kyongju (RG 8.02 p400). This was originally intended to open in 2010, but last year President Kim Dae-Jung instructed KHRC to bring forward the completion date to 2008. Target journey time for the 412 km trip from Seoul to Pusan is just 116min.

KNR is currently considering long-term plans for expansion of the network, in the light of growing co-operation between North and South Korea and the planned reopening of the cross-border rail links.

Since 2001 SNCF International has been working with KNR on the Honam project to electrify the 270 km line between Taejon and the southwestern city of Mokpo. The Seoul - Taejon - Mokpo route will be served by Korea High Speed Trains, domestically-produced trainsets designed for through-running from high speed to conventional lines (RG 10.02 p633). Completion was planned for 2015, but has now been delayed by one year because plans to move South Korea’s administrative capital from Seoul to Taejon are now in doubt.

Other long term schemes include a 240 km east-west link from Kangneung to Seoul, and the Kyonggeon project for a 315 km line across the south of the country between Kwangju and Pusan.

CAPTION: A test train passes through the KTX station at Chonan, from where the section to Taejon has now been completed

CAPTION: The hilly terrain means that much of the line runs over bridges and viaducts

CAPTION: Five completed KTX trainsets stand in the maintenance and servicing depot at Goyang

TABLE: Table I. Journey times from Seoul

KTX Existing

Taejon 0h49min 1h31min

Taegu 1h30min 3h02min

Pusan 2h40min 4h10min

Mokpo 2h49min 4h42min