Seoul Searching2009.04.27 13:35

[Korea Now] Government pondering Seoul-Jeju Island bullet train connection

Have a fear of flying? Korean researchers may have an answer for those suffer from aerophobia -- at least travelers to Jeju, Korea’s Hawaii and the favorite destination for local honeymooners. The current solution for those with a fear of flying is to go to Mokpo by KTX bullet train then change to a ferry boat that sails to Jeju in 4 hours.

Korea Transport Institute, a government think-tank proposed an ambitious plan early January to extend KTX bullet train to Jeju, the largest island in Korea. To realize this grand vision, the institute says, it will need to build the longest underwater tunnel ever built in human history.

Two small islands-Bogildo and Chujado-located between the Peninsula and Jeju will provide convenient stepping stones for the Korean rail builder that will dig this grand underwater tunnel. 

The institute says the constructor will first need to build a 28Km-long over-sea bridge connecting Haenam and Bogildo. The rest of the line will be completed by digging a 78Km long underwater tunnel down to Jeju using Chujado as a main drilling station. 

If completed, Mokpo, the current terminal of Honam KTX line will be reborn as a departing station for the extended rail section, which will host the longest underwater railway tunnel. 

The current record holder is Japan's Seikan Tunnel (53.85Km) which crosses Tsugaru Strait, followed by Channel Tunnel (50.45Km). 

The Institute stresses that it will enhance the overall economy of the existing Honam Line since the KTX bullet trains will attract near 78 percent of air travelers to Jeju. Some 8.4 million travelers visited Jeju in 2007 and they traveled mostly by air according to the Institute. 

▲ Proposed KTX bullet train extension between Mokpo and Jeju
ⓒ2009 OhmyNews
Journey time from Seoul to Jeju by KTX bullet trains will be 2 hours 26 minutes, about an hour longer than the air travel. However, if you count in the time required for passenger check in, security check and heavy city traffic to local airports, the institute is convinced, KTX trains will compete fairly well with airlines. 

If new and improved KTX trains are going to run between Seoul and Jeju, the journey time will be slashed even more. The commercial cruising speed for KTX bullet trains remains around 300Km per hour currently. The new Korean bullet trains poised to replace current KTX train sets beginning 2013 will cruise at 350Km/h, with its top speed reaching up to 400Km/h.

While many train lovers in Korea are fondly dreaming about a fantastic underwater train ride to Jeju, one bad news coming out of the train tracks glooms the prospect of Korean bullet trains. 

Government auditors discovered this week potentially crippling cracks in the concrete sleeper ties installed in the extended track between Daegu and Pusan, which is currently under construction. 

A total of 150,000 sleeper ties will have to be replaced with an estimated cost of over 100 billion won or about $71 million. Better safe than sorry though for over 100,000 daily KTX riders.

As the governments around the world are struggling to weather the severe financial crisis by investing heavily on building grand national infrastructure, the underwater bullet trains will at least give the Korean government a much needed excuse to inject big pile of cash to its pet project--about $10 billions in this case.
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