Rail transport in South Korea

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Republic of Korea
KTX (Korea Train eXpress).jpg
KTX train
National railway Korail
Infrastructure company KRNA
Major operators Mainline: Korail only
Rapid transit: Various
System length
Total 3,249.6 km (2,019.2 mi)
Double track 1,403.5 km (872.1 mi)
Electrified 2,031.3 km (1,262.2 mi)
High-speed 368.4 km (228.9 mi)
Track gauge
Main 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in)
High-speed 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in)
Main 25 kV AC
25kV AC All Korail operated network except Ilsan Line, AREX
1.5kV DC All rapid transit networks including Korail Ilsan Line
No. stations 638
Highest elevation 855 m (2,805 ft)
 at Chujeon Station
Route Map of Korail

The rail transportation system in South Korea includes mainline railway lines and rapid transit system in some major cities.


Korean Empire and Partition[edit]

In 1896, a concession was granted to American businessmen, Henry Collbran and Harry R. Bostwick, to construct the Seoul-Chemulpo (Jemulpo) Railroad (SCRR). Its opening was on March 22, 1897. On September 18, 1899, the SCRR was officially opened for traffic from Jemulpo to the south bank of the Han River near Yeongdeungpo. Railroad operations in Seoul did not begin until July 8, 1900, when the Han River was finally bridged. On May 8, 1902, the French-operated railroad financed by the Korean Empire, Northwestern Railway (NWR) was established and completed in 1905. It would connect Seoul with Manchuria by way of Kaesong, Pyongyang and Sinuiju on the Yalu River.[1] During the Japanese occupation of Korea, the railways were operated by the Chosen Government Railway and various privately owned companies.

Other major lines were later lain during the colonial period; these included lines originating in Mokpo, Masan, and Busan. These lines connected to Seoul and to Sinuiju in North Korea, where they were linked with the Trans-Siberian Railway. The railroad network was badly damaged during the Korean War, but it was later rebuilt and improved.

South Korea[edit]

Established in September 1963, the Korean National Railroad, an agency of the Ministry of Transportation, was in charge of all rails throughout the 1970s and 1980s and continued electrifying heavily used tracks and laying additional tracks. As of 1987, the combined length of the country's railroad network was approximately 6,340 kilometers, including approximately 761.8 kilometers of double track railroad and 1,023 kilometers of electrified railroad. Suburban lines were electrified and connected to the Seoul subway system. Rolling stock included 459 diesel locomotives, 90 electric locomotives, 133 motor coaches, and 370 electric motor cars.

Railroads in the 1980s were useful primarily in the transportation of freight, and they were important for passenger traffic around Seoul and in the heavily traveled corridor linking the capital with the southern port of Busan. Although the railroad system grew little during the 1980s (there were already 5,600 kilometers of tracks in 1980), rail improvements—the increased electrification of tracks, replacement of older tracks, and the addition of rolling stock—allowed rail traffic to boom. Some of the busiest lines south of Seoul linking the capital with Busan and Mokpo had three or four tracks. The 1980s also saw the introduction of high-speed trains connecting Seoul with Busan, Jeonju, Mokpo, and Gyeongju. The famous "Blue Train" (Saemaul-ho) between Seoul and Busan (via Daejeon and Daegu) took only four hours and fifty minutes and offered two classes of service: first class and special. In 1987 approximately 525 million passengers and 59.28 million metric tons were transported by the railroad system.

Rapid transit[edit]

In 1974, Seoul Subway Line 1, the first rapid transit system in South Korea, was opened. Lines 2-9 would be opened later. Lines 1, 3, and 4 are operated by Korail and Seoul Metro, while lines 5-8 are operated by SMRT. Line 2 and Line 9 are operated by Seoul Metro. Korail operates the Bundang, Jungang, and Gyeongui lines.


During the 1970s a new transportation system between Seoul-Busan corridor was planned. One idea was high-speed railroad, but it was scrapped by construction of Gyeongbu Expressway. After that, economic development and centralization toward Seoul resulted overload in that corridor, making distribution costs expensive. To solve this problem, plans were studied: resulting introduction of high-speed railroad.

Choosing the technology (vehicles, track, catenary, signalling) was difficult. South Korea wrote out an international tender; Japanese Shinkansen, German ICE, French TGV were candidates.

The construction of the Gyeongbu High Speed Railway (Gyeongbu HSR) was started on June 30, 1992, before choosing the vehicle. The initial goal was 1998; lack of experience, frequent redesign, difficulties in purchasing land, and the IMF crisis delayed the entire project. As a result, Korea Train Express (KTX) service began April 1, 2004.

Since its opening in 2004, the high-speed rail service has halved the demand for air transport on this corridor which used to be one of the busiest direct air routes in the world.[2]

Split of KNR[edit]

During construction of the high-speed line, a company which is now called Korea Rail Network Authority (KR) was formed. Initially it only managed construction of new high-speed line. To improve corporate governance, the Korean government decided to split the national railroad into separate companies for operation and construction. As a result, after building Gyeongbu HSR, Korean National Railroad was split into Korail and KR, the former managing operation, and the latter maintaining tracks. This allowed open access in the Korean railway system.

KR was constituted with old KNR infrastructure assets, and several debts due to construction of railway lines were transferred.

Private rail companies[edit]

Most railways were operated by private companies until 1946 when all the railroads except trams were nationalised under the rule of, in case of South Korea, U.S. Military Government. By the end of the 1960s, all the tram companies were demised so there were no private rail companies left.

After the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis, several government-driven railroad construction project were reviewed, postponed, redesigned, revoked or turned into Build-Transfer-Lease/Build-Transfer-Operate projects. Several private capitals investment groups, including Macquarie Group have participated in the projects. As of 2010, Airport Express Co., and Seoul Metro 9 are in operation. But after the continuing deficit, most shares of Airport Express Co. were taken over by Korail. Several private railroads, such as Shinbundang Line, BGLRT, and Everline, have begun service as well.

There's no general rule to define private railway lines in South Korea, though generally all rail companies except Korail and rapid transit companies under full control of local governments can be considered private sector.


Railroad passenger number in South Korea have been decreasing[quantify] since the 1990s. However, despite continuous road construction, railways are still one of the primary means by which South Koreans travel over long distances within the country.

Total: 3,472 km standard gauge (1,742 km electrified) (2007)

Railway lines[edit]

The principal railway line is the Gyeongbu Line (경부선), which connects the capital and largest city (Seoul) with the country's second largest city and largest seaport (Busan); the second is the Honam Line (호남선), which branches off the Gyeongbu Line at Daejeon, and ends at Gwangju or Mokpo.

The following is a table of major railway lines in South Korea:

Tonghae Station, the last station of Jinhae Line.
Line Name Hangul Major Stations or Areas Served Operator
Gaya Line 가야선 Gaya Korail
Bukjeonju Line 북전주선 Jeonju
Yeocheon Line 여천선 Yeocheon
Gyeongbu Line 경부선 Seoul, Daejeon, Dongdaegu, Busan
Gyeongbu HSR 경부고속철도 Seoul, Daejeon, Dongdaegu, Busan
Gyeongui Line 경의선 Seoul, Paju
Gyowae Line 서울교외선 Goyang, Yangju, Uijeongbu
Gyeongin Line 경인선 Guro, Bupyeong Station, Incheon
Gyeongwon Line 경원선 Yongsan, Cheongnyangni, Uijeongbu, Soyosan, Sintanni
Gyeongchun Line 경춘선 Cheongnyangni, Chuncheon
Janghang Line 장항선 Cheonan, Janghang, Iksan
Chungbuk Line 충북선 Jochiwon, Cheongju, Chungju, Bongyang
Honam Line 호남선 Seodaejeon, Iksan, Gwangjusongjeong, Naju, Mokpo
Honam HSR 호남고속철도 Osong, Iksan, Gwangjusongjeong, Mokpo
Jeolla Line 전라선 Iksan, Jeonju, Suncheon, Yeosu-EXPO
Jungang Line 중앙선 Cheongnyangni, Wonju, Jecheon, Yeongju, Andong, Gyeongju
Gyeongbuk Line 경북선 Gimcheon, Yeongju
Yeongdong Line 영동선 Yeongju, Donghae, Gangneung
Taebaek Line 태백선 Jecheon, Taebaek
Donghae Nambu Line 동해남부선 Bujeon, Ulsan, Gyeongju, Pohang
Donghae Bukbu Line 동해북부선 Jejin
Gyeongjeon Line 경전선 Samnangjin, Masan, Jinju, Suncheon, Gwangjusongjeong
Jinhae Line 진해선 Jinhae
Jeongseon Line 정선선 Jeongseon
Mungyeong Line 문경선 Mungyeong
Gaun Line 가은선 Gaeun
Gwangju Line 광주선 Songjeongni, Gwangju
Hwasun Line 화순선 Jangdong
Gunsan Hwamul Line 군산화물선 Gunsan Hwamul (Gunsan Freight)
Okgu Line 옥구선 Okgu
Samcheok Line 삼척선 Samcheok
AREX 인천국제공항철도 Incheon Airport, Gimpo Airport, Seoul (2010) Airport Express Co.

(Bold lines see KTX service on their entire length or significant sections as of 2010, will see such service by 2011, or are in construction exclusively for KTX service.)

For former or proposed railway lines, see the articles on the Gimpo Line, Suryo Line, and Kŭmgang-san Line. For planned lines or lines under construction, see Suin Line, Jungbunaeryuk Line, Gangwon Line, and Daegok–Sosa–Wonsi Line.

There is no railway service on Jeju Island.

Korail (en) (ko) is the sole passenger railway operator.


Frequent service is provided on most routes, with trains every 15–60 minutes connecting Seoul to all major South Korean cities. Seven classes of train operate as of March 2016:

  • KTX, the high-speed railway system, takes passengers from downtown Seoul to downtown Busan faster than an airplane (including check-in time), makes fewer stops and is more expensive than other trains;
  • ITX, semi-fast trains, operates on selected lines:
  • the Saemaul-ho (새마을호, named from "New Community Movement") service, makes more stops and provides comfortable seating;
  • Mugunghwa-ho (무궁화호, "Rose of Sharon") service, which is the most popular, stops at most stations, and offers a mixture of reserved and unreserved seating;
  • Nuriro-ho (누리로), which will replace mid-long distance Mugunghwa service in selected route, was recently introduced;
  • Commuter (통근 열차) service, which is the slowest and cheapest of all, stops at all stops, and offers no reserved seating. Only operates on Gyeongwon Line regularly.

Rapid transit[edit]

South Korea's six largest cities—Seoul, Busan, Daegu, Gwangju, Daejeon and Incheon—all have subway systems.

Seoul Metropolitan Subway is the oldest system in the country, with the Seoul Station-Cheongnyangni section of Line 1 opening in 1974.

High-speed service[edit]

Main article: Korea Train Express
KTX high-speed train service map

A high-speed railroad by the name of the Korea Train Express (KTX) is in service between Seoul, Busan and Mokpo. The railway uses French TGV/LGV technology. Service started on April 1, 2004, using the completed high-speed line sections and using upgraded conventional lines.b Another section of high-speed line sped up Seoul-Busan services from November 1, 2010. Additional services on new routes will be introduced to Masan on the Gyeongjeon Line on December 15, 2010, and to Yeosu on the Jeolla Line in April 2011. As of 2010, the top speed on dedicated high-speed track is 305 kilometres per hour (190 mph).

International service[edit]

North Korea North Korea: Same gauge but not generally available. Until the division of Korea following the end of the Second World War, the Gyeongui Line and Gyeongwon Line extended into what is now North Korea. The Gyeongui Line connected Seoul to Kaesong, Pyongyang, and Sinuiju on the Chinese border, while the Gyeongwon Line served Wonsan on the east coast. Another line—the Geumgangsan Line—connected the town of Cheorwon, now on the border of North and South Korea, on the Gyeongwon Line, to Mt. Geumgang, now in the North.

The Gyeongui Line is one of two lines whose southern and northern halves are now being reconnected, the other being the Donghae Bukbu Line. On 17 May 2007, two test trains ran on the reconnected lines: one on the west line from Munsan to Kaesong; the second on the east from Jejin to Kumgang.[3]

In December 2007, regular freight service started on the Gyeongui line, from South Korea into the Kaesong Industrial Park in the north. The service has been underused: As reported in October 2008, on 150 out of 163 return trips that had been done so far, the train carried no cargo. The amount of cargo carried over this period had been merely 340 tons. This absence of interest in the service has been explained by the customers' (companies operating in Kaesong) preference for road transport.[4] In November 2008, North Korea shut down the link.

A Trans-Korean Main Line, spanning North Korea and connecting to Russian Railways, is planned.[5]

Japan Japan: There's no railroad connection between South Korea and Japan. But Korail and JR West have a joint rail pass (한일공동승차권) which includes discounted KTX and Shinkansen tickets with a Busan-Shimonoseki/Fukuoka ferry ticket. A Korean Strait undersea tunnel was proposed, but neither government nor rail companies seem to have any interest in this ultra-long tunnel project.[citation needed]



  • Map of 2015 vision[6]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ https://www.koreatimes.co.kr/www/news/special/2011/07/113_72575.html
  2. ^ "Bullet trains steal planes' thunder". joongangdaily.joins.com. Retrieved 2010-01-05. 
  3. ^ "Korean trains in historic link-up". BBC News. 2007-05-17. Retrieved 2007-05-17. 
  4. ^ Richard Spencer (23 Oct 2008). "Korean detente railway becomes ghost train". The Daily Telegraph. London. 
  5. ^ "Trans-Korean Main Line – Investment in the Future – Russian Transport Daily Report". 2010-10-29. Retrieved 2010-10-30. 
  6. ^ Railway Gazette International Aug 2008 p515