Gyeongbu KTX

KTX 121

Seoul – Busan

Standard, Car 17 Seat 2D

 

Prologue

Conceived out of the need to alleviate road and conventional rail congestion along the Seoul – Busan corridor in the late 1970s, the Korea Train eXpress (KTX) has evolved to become a key component of South Korea’s transportation network today. Mirroring the country’s rapid economic growth, the high speed network has grown from a single line to 6 lines extending to major cities and metropolises. A source of national pride for South Korea, we take a ride on the original Gyeongbu KTX southbound from Seoul – the Train to Busan!

 

Tickets & Boarding

Our journey began at Seoul Station, which serves as the northern terminus of the route and a hub for KTX services to other parts of the country. Like many high speed rail services around the world, Gyeongbu KTX trains operate with reserved and non-reserved seating. Having purchased a Korail Pass, we opted for a reserved seat in ordinary class and this was easily obtained at no additional cost at the ticketing office within the station. Alternatively, passengers may also purchase tickets and reserve seats at one of the many automated ticketing machines spread around the hall.

   

   

Unlike some rail operators, Korea Railroad Company (Korail) employs a honor system with no physical gantries or ticket inspections before boarding. Passengers wait in the station’s common lounge before making their way down to the platforms as the departure time approached. Seoul Station was a hub of activity with trains departing or arriving every minute and we eventually found our train (and its crew) already waiting, boarding at the designated car to settle in for the journey ahead.

 

The Train

With South Korea having no indigenous high-speed rail technology when the programme first began, the early KTX services relied on imported French technology. The KTX-1 was based heavily on the French TGV Reseau and remains the mainstay of the fleet as Korail continues to introduce the second-generation, locally-developed KTX-Sancheon rolling stock into service.

Our train was operated by a 20-car, KTX-1 trainset, comprising 2 power cars, 4 First Class cars and 14 Standard Class cars carrying up to 965 passengers for the journey south.

   

The choice of turquoise colours for the interior and lighting alongside the windows make the car appear darker than it is. The fabric-upholstered seats are configured 4-abreast in a 2-2 layout, with half the car facing the direction of travel and the other half facing backwards. Unlike some other high-speed rail systems, these seats cannot be rotated so small groups would want to request for the set of seats facing each other in the middle of the car. An overhead shelf provides storage space for cabin bags, with window seat passengers benefiting from a wall-mounted coat hook.

   

   

Every seat on the train has a pull-up tray table, which is sturdy enough to support a 15-inch laptop computer. A footrest provides some foot support throughout the journey, although we found it more comfortable to keep it stowed and stretching our legs beneath the seat in front. Between seats, the movable armrest also houses an audio jack which passengers may use for music and commentary from the overhead monitors showing the local news. Selected seats by the window also feature electrical outlets and USB ports for charging devices.

   

Every alternate car is equipped with lavatory modules at the vestibules between cars. This area also serves as a general purpose space with vending machines, additional luggage storage and fold-down seating for passengers without any seat assignment.

   

KTX services do not offer a dining car onboard, with snacks and beverages retailed from a trolley that attendants wheel down the aisle following every stop. Every station also has a variety of shops and stalls offering boxed meals and takeaway food for purchase, a far more popular choice with the local population. Like many of our fellow passengers, we bought our in-train snack of a skewered fish cake and the local banana milk before boarding.

 

Route & Highlights

South Korea’s first high-speed railway line, the Gyeongbu High-Speed Railway runs for 387.3 kilometers between Seoul and Busan. Largely following the path of the conventional Gyeongbu Line it was designed to alleviate congestion from, the line is the main rail corridor in the country today and provides faster connectivity between major cities in the Korean heartland. Designed for a maximum speed of 350 kilometers per hour, high-speed services operating on the line have cut travel times from 4 hours 10 minutes by conventional rail to 2 hours 08 minutes on the fastest trains.

   

   

Originating from Seoul Station amidst the towering buildings in the city, our train navigated across the South Korean capital before crossing the Han River into the suburbs. Leaving behind the urban sprawl allowed it to pick up speed to its 305 kilometers per hour service speed and the landscape outside the window gradually changed into local farmland, before giving way to open country and the surrounding mountains as we sped towards our next stop, Cheonan-Asan.

   

   

Our train continues south, bypassing the Osong interchange station where Seoul – Mokpo services branch off before arriving at Daejeon station. Made famous by the “Train to Busan” movie where notable scenes were shot on location, this is the heart of rail transportation in South Korea and where Korail has its headquarters. Just before the halfway point of the journey, all Gyeongbu KTX services stop here, where we pick up more passengers and continue on.

   

   

The scenery outside the window remains largely rural, with farmland and light industry surrounded by high mountains dotting the landscape. Our train traverses several tunnels as it speeds along towards Dongdaegu station, the next stop on the timetable. This was another busy stop, serving the industrial city of Daegu which is home to many of the country’s top manufacturing firms, most notably Samsung. Next was a quick sprint to Singyeongju station, before the final leg of the route.

   

   

Bypassing Ulsan, the KTX 121 fast approaches its southern terminus Busan, As with the movie, the last section of track comprises the 20,323-meter long Geumjeung Tunnel, an engineering marvel that cuts beneath Mount Geumjeong, the city’s most popular hiking destination. For the first time since departure, the sea also comes into view as we pull into the gleaming glass and steel Busan station, a reminder that this is South Korea’s largest and the world’s fifth busiest seaport.

 

Verdict

The Korea Train eXpress is arguably one of the best ways for intercity travel in South Korea. With most journeys taking not more than 3 hours travel time, it trumps domestic air travel for time-strapped travellers at an affordable price point (the foreigner-exclusive Korail Pass allowing unlimited rail travel further sweetens the deal). Added to the convenience of central stations, multiple departures and a decent hard product, we definitely recommend it when getting around the country.

 

Korea Railroad Company

www.letskorail.com

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