Bullet train’s test run hits targetOn April 1, the country’s first bullet train, named Korea Train Express, is scheduled to begin its first trip on the peninsula.
The train, which will gradually expand its routes until 2010, is expected to drastically reduce the amount of time it takes to travel around Korea. Prior to KTX, many trips to the provinces from Seoul took several hours.
The JoongAng Ilbo took a test trip on the bullet train to get an idea about how train travel will change and the pros and cons of the new train.
Each train, which has about 20 cars, comes equipped with beverage and snack vending machines, six telephone booths and one fax machine.
Tickets for the April 1 inaugural trip can be reserved 22 days in advance at train stations’ ticket counters, automatic ticket machines and through the Internet (www.korail.go.kr). Phone reservations are only available to members of the Korean National Railroad.
KTX by the numbers
Total length: 388 meters (1272.9 feet)
Total weight: 771.2 tons
Structure: 20 cars (two engine cars, four VIP cars, 14 normal cars)
Top speed: 300 km/h
Acceleration from 0 to 300km/h: Six minutes and eight seconds
Travel time (from Seoul): Daejon, 49 minutes;
Daegu, 1 hour 39 minutes;
Gwangju, two hours 37 minutes;
Busan, two hours 40 minutes.
Seating capacity: 935 seats
Width of seats: VIP is 66.5 centimeters; normal is 53.5 centimeters
Horsepower: 18,200 horsepower
Others: 10 beverage vending machines, three snack vending machines,
six phone booths, one fax machine.
Curious about the train? We were, so we asked
First-time passengers will have a lot of basic questions regarding the KTX. The JoongAng Ilbo asked the Korea National Railroad about issues that may be of interest to the public.
Q: Are there any sleeping cars or early morning trains available?
A: There are no sleeping cars. From 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. the train undergoes security checks and maintenance procedures and is not operating during that time.
Is there a separate dining car?
As the operating hours of the train are relatively short, there is no separate dining car available.
Beverage and snack vending machines are available, and porters will be carrying around food trays. Bringing food items on the train is allowed.
Are smoking and drinking prohibited on the train?
Smoking is forbidden inside the train as well as in the station. There are no rules prohibiting drinking, but drunkenness will not be tolerated. In these cases, that particular person can be removed from the train.
How about pets?
They are allowed only in cages and with proof that they are healthy and disease-free.
How long does the train stay at one station?
Since it stays only for about a minute, passengers need to get ready to disembark from the train before arriving at the station.
Why do the seats seem smaller than those of normal trains?
In order to reduce the air resistance, the width of the train had to be reduced.
Why are there so many tunnels and bridges along the KTX route?
In order to achieve faster travel times, the KTX route needs to be in a straight line whenever possible. Therefore, bridges and tunnels are used in order to navigate through the mountainous geography of the peninsula.
What kind of discount plans are there for customers?
Passengers with discount cards can get a 30 percent discount on weekdays and 15 percent on weekends.
Fees for these cards range from 25,000 won ($21) to 190,000 won depending on the length of the period for the pass.
What are some of the duties the train attendants have?
In VIP sections, they offer beverages and newspapers.
Birds beware; others can relax
As the country’s first bullet train is scheduled to make its first run on April 1, the JoongAng Ilbo took a ride to see what it would be like to travel at 300 kilometers per hour across the country.
As the train slowly left the platform of Yongsan Station and passed Gwangmyeong Station, it didn’t feel much different from the normal ones.
Upon passing the Gwangmyeong Station, riding upon the specially designed monorails, the bullet train kicked into second gear. It only took a short time till the train reached a speed of 300 kilometers per hour, six minutes and eight seconds to be exact, 20 kilometers in distance.
So far there have been no major accidents and all tests have been positive. The only mishaps that happened were due to uncontrollable factors.
“At first, when we did our test runs, we had blood on the front window of the train. Birds that were accustomed to the speed of the normal trains failed to avoid us. Nowadays, such accidents have been reduced. I think they learned that a new train is in town,” says Seong Ki-bong, the lead locomotive engineer.
As one walks from the last passenger car to the very front of the lead car, the stability of the train was good enough to walk without grabbing the wall or seats along the corridor.
A fully automated climate control system that takes care of the temperature, ventilation and humidity levels provided a comfortable atmosphere even though the train was full of people.
The KTX is manned by a single engineer, thanks to the full automatic drive mechanism. There are eight sensors that are placed at instruments the engineer needs to operate. If the engineer happens to fall asleep while driving, the sensors are designed to detect that and stop the train.
Han Woo-jin, a member of an online community of train travelers, points out some drawbacks.
“Despite the fact that Korea has a very strong position in the information technology, there are no power outlets for notebook computers. The monitors on the train are not LCD screens but old-fashioned and clumsy. It leaves a little bit of an outdated feeling,” says Mr. Han.
There is no dining car available. Instead, beverages and snack vending machines are available, while porters will move around the train to sell additional items.
The women behind the scenes
There are four female engineers among the 3,200 operating the normal trains and the new Korea Train Express train. On Wednesday, two of them became candidates for the new KTX train.
Graduating from the Korea National Railroad College in 2000, Kim Yeon-heui and Kim Heui-jeong both became full-fledged engineers last July. However, their male counterparts are subject to tougher requirements just to be considered for the job.
“Normally you have to have a minimum of five years of experience, with over 400,000 kilometers under your belt. We got the offer and we know we have to fill big shoes,” says Kim Yeon-heui.
Currently, both Ms. Kims are receiving training for operating the KTX. “It will take about a year to learn all the in and outs of the routes. Probably around springtime next year, if you hear a female voice over the loudspeaker saying that the train is running at 300 kilometers per hour, that’s either one of us,” says Kim Heui-jeong.
Bae Suk, 42, is another woman who works in the male-dominated train industry. As the lead engineer responsible for fixing and maintaining the KTX train’s optimal performance level, Ms. Bae has worked 10 years fixing trains.
She volunteered in 2002 to transfer to the maintenance of the KTX trains. Together with five engineers, it takes her a full day to check on the 20 cars that make up an entire train.
Choi Seon-hye, 32 is the main person who is responsible for the comfort of the passengers and the service inside the train. A veteran of running subway trains, she changed jobs at the end of last year.
“I am pretty happy with my choice. But my ultimate goal is to be on that first train on April 1,” says Ms. Choi.
by Kwon Hyeok-joo, Lee Kyong-hee