NESTLED adjacent to the high-speed railway station, and a landmark of Daejeon's skyline, is the headquarters of Korea's railway operator, Korail, and the Korean Rail Network Authority (KRNA).

Korail is responsible for operating Korea's main line and high-speed networks and some of Seoul's metro lines as well as carrying out infrastructure maintenance, while KRNA takes care of new build and rehabilitation projects and owns the country's railway infrastructure. The companies take up either tower of the building and while separate, their functions and purpose are intrinsically linked, much like the expansive corridor at the base of the two towers.

Korea's high-speed KTX service is celebrating its 10th year of operation in 2014 after the inaugural service was launched on the Gyeongbu line from Seoul - Daegu in April 2004. KTX initially continued to Busan on the conventional main line which was electrified specially for high-speed services until the dedicated high-speed infrastructure was extended by 124.4km to Busan in October 2010, cutting the journey time by 22 minutes to 2h 18m.

KTX has revolutionised life in Korea, enabling business people to travel the length of the country and back in a single day while revitalising regional economies by establishing industrial and tourism networks around cities with a KTX station. KTX has now accumulated 240 million-km of service, carrying 414 million passengers, and transports an average of 150,000 passengers every day on 232 high-speed services.Korea

Such impressive ridership figures have also been a boon for Korail's finances. While it continues to reports losses as government contributions have fallen in recent years, profits from the service are underpinning losses from other areas of its operation.

Future expansion of the network promises to offer a 1h 30min connection between all of Korea's major cities and is the major source of KRNA's current activities which it is carrying out under a Won 88 trillion ($US 86.2bn) 10-year investment programme announced by the government in 2010.

Work is now entering the final stages on the Honam High Speed railway, a 249.1km link from Osong, a new station on the existing Seoul - Busan line, to Mokpo in the southwest of Korea, which has a budget of Won 10.24 trillion. The line will have six stations at Osong, Namgongju, Iksan, Jeongeup, Gwangju-Songjeong and Mokpo, and work on the 182.3km section from Osong to Gwangju-Songjeong, which began in 2009 will be completed by the end of this year with services set to start in 2016. A journey time of 1h 33min will be possible from Seoul to Gwangju-Songjeong, a 66 minute improvement on the conventional main line journey of 2h 39min, with trains then continuing on the existing main line to Mokpo.

Plans to extend the dedicated high-speed link from Gwangju-Songjeong to Mokpo, however, are currently subject to change. Mr G W Kim, director general of KRNA's construction division, says that a desire to connect the service to Muan International Airport is resulting in a review of the proposed alignment and there is currently no date for the start of the final phase of the project.

One project that is moving ahead is KRNA's work to develop dedicated cross-city connections on the Gyeongbu high-speed line through Daejeon and Daegu.

Kim says that opening of the new 18.2km line through Daejeon and the 27.1km link through Daegu are now scheduled for 2015. The projects are budgeted at a combined Won 2.87 trillion and will cut journey times on the Gyeongbu line by eight minutes. They are also complemented by a 3.8km connection to the Donghae Nambu line at Gyeongbu, which will provide a direct connection for Seoul KTX services to Pohang on the main line from Busan. This project is budgeted at Won 1.23 trillion.

Another high-speed line currently under construction is a 65km link from Seoul Gangnam to Gyeongbu, which will provide an alternative Seoul terminus for KTX services from Busan and Mokpo. The Suseo line includes the construction of three new stations at Seoul Gangnam, Dongtan and Pyeongtaek, and will offer a journey time of 1h 59min from Seoul Gangnam to Busan and 1h 49min from Seoul Gangnam to Mokpo.

Approximately 53.8km of the new line will run in tunnel, with the project budgeted at Won 3.72 trillion and set for completion next year.

Services to Mokpo and Busan from Seoul Gangnam will be operated by a new private subsidiary of Korail, Suseo High Speed Railway Corporation (SR). The company will compete with the incumbent and recently issued its vision to offer a "satisfying" and "reliable" service. SR is expected to attract around 20,000 passengers per day and will improve accessibility to the high-speed network for residents of southern Seoul.

Korail's president and CEO Dr Choi Yeon-Hye says that Korail decided to set up the subsidiary as a means of boosting competition on a network in which Korail has been the sole operator for the past 115 years.

"The new subsidiary will be a much smaller organisation and will help our competitiveness because we can potentially learn from them about how to reduce costs, how to boost efficiency, and generate new demand," Choi says. "There will be a real shift in paradigm in Korean railways."

SR's workforce will consist of around 400 employees, 50% of which will be transferred from Korail to the new company, with the other 50% new recruits. Former Korail corporate affairs chief Mr Kim Bok-hwan, has been appointed the company's CEO.

"I hope that the company will have a totally different management system, organisation, personnel management, payment and performance assessment from Korail," Choi says. "I hope that many people with experience from different industries, for example the aviation industry, will join the new company. And I also hope that it can attract many new employees from the private sector."


SR is yet to announce its service pattern for the line but it did sign a Won 342.2bn contract with Hyundai Rotem in March for 10 10-car high-speed trains. Designated KTX-Honam, Korail also agreed to purchase 22 of the 300km/h trains in 2011 for operation on the new line to Mokpo. Fifteen sets are due to be delivered by the end of this year and the remaining seven by the second quarter of 2015.

Line testing of the trains has been underway since November 2013 and by offering 410 seats rather 363, the trains offer greater capacity than Hyundai Rotem's previous high-speed train for Korail, the KTX Sancheon, of which 24 are now in service.

Korail's new trains will initially be operated on the Gyeongbu line until being transferred to the new railway and will be maintained at a new depot currently under construction in Gwangju. The company also agreed to purchase an additional 15 of the trains to assist with operations during the 2018 Winter Olympic Games which will be hosted in PyeongChang.

These trains will be deployed on a new 123.1km line from Wonju, south of Seoul, east to Gangneung. Construction of the Won 3.9 trillion project commenced in June 2012 and it is scheduled to open in 2017, in time for the Olympics.

The new line will form part of a main line network currently undergoing a major enhancement and rehabilitation programme under the 10-year initiative. Work includes track-doubling and electrification on the Cheonan - Onyang, Oncheon - Sinchang, Samnangjin - Jinju, and Ulsan - Pohang sections, which will improve connections to the Gyeongbu high-speed line. Double-track and electrification will also take place on the Boseong - Imseong-ri, and Iksan - Daeya lines which will feed into the Honam line.

These upgrades will also lead to the establishment of "Regional Express Railways" across Korea. They encompass 15 lines including the Munsan - Yoido (41.2km), Ilsan - Suseo (46.2km), Songdo - Chungyangri (48.7km), and the Uijeonbu - Geumjeong (48.5km) lines.

However, details of the implementation and completion schedule for each of these projects is unclear.

The prospective costs are also unclear and Kim says that the government and KRNA are open and willing to explore public-private partnerships for railway infrastructure projects.

Such arrangements were already successfully conducted for a build, transfer and operate contract for the Seoul Incheon airport railway, which was completed in 2011, and the Sinbundang double-track and electrification project from Seoul Gangnam to Bundang, Seongnam which was completed in 2012.

"Future contingencies have to be continually explored in order to complete these projects," Kim says. "With personnel and welfare financing placing a significant burden on the government's finances, we cannot afford to rely on them as the sole source of funding for infrastructure projects."

Extensive experience with railway construction is also reinforcing Korea's domestic railway expertise, which it is increasingly exporting to other countries. For example KRNA has been engaged in an advisory capacity in China, Vietnam, Indonesia and Cambodia in Asia, as well as in India and Nepal, Cameroon and Paraguay.

In addition, Choi says that experience with operating a complex and dense network, particularly around Seoul, is enabling Korail to share best practice with other railways. She says that the success of the UIC Asian railway training centre established by Korail in 2008 reflects its status.

"Over 500 people from 40 countries have come to Korea to receive training at the centre," Choi says. "Our railway technology training has a close relationship with the Korean government's industrial and economic policy and there is a deep interest in our technology know-how, particularly from experts in under-developed countries who really want to learn from our experiences."

With further efforts to enhance what it has and build new infrastructure only adding to this level of experience, both Korean industry and its railway passengers are set to benefit massively from KRNA and Korail's work over the next few years.