[EDITORIALS]Fast train slowing quicklyWith the decision to add three more stations by 2010 ― at Gimcheon, Gumi and Ulsan in North Gyeongsang province ― the Seoul-Busan High Speed Rail will have seven stops. The government says the additions increase the number of people who benefit from the high-speed rail. It is regrettable, however, that the goal of a national project has been distorted.
The main reason given by the government for the construction of the High Speed Rail was to shorten the travel time between Seoul and Busan. Originally, the government promised one hour fifty minutes, but that expands to two hours thirty-one minutes if the train stops at seven stations. This raises the question of whether a high-speed rail is necessary, since Saemaul, an express train, now runs the course in four hours and 10 minutes.
The government insists that the travel time will not be too long because trains will not stop at all stations. The High Speed Rail will, however, be obliged to increase the number of stops because its debt will grow to 12 trillion won ($10.2 billion) by 2008. As a result, it is highly likely that the high-speed rail will become a low-speed rail that stops at all stations.
When the rail construction was approved in 1989, the budget was set at 5.8 trillion won, but it was increased to 18.4 trillion won due to frequent design changes. With an additional cost of 600 billion won for three stations, the total cost will snowball to 19 trillion won.
The reason for increasing the number of stops is difficult to understand. The government must eliminate suspicion that additional stations are pork-barrel spending aimed at next year’s election. Ulsan station, for example, was included after President Roh Moo-hyun mentioned the need. In other areas, it is said that influential figures in the government party who will run for the Assembly seats next year have exercised their influence to have stations built. Again politics has ruined an important national project. The High Speed Rail must be promoted for the long-term benefit of the nation, not for political interests.