Light rail project to boost subway gets green light

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Light rail project to boost subway gets green light

The Seoul city government said they will carry out a plan to create five light rail lines that was initiated in 2007 but subsequently postponed.

The Seoul Metropolitan Government said on Thursday that they will invest 2 trillion won ($1.78 billion) to create five light rail lines: Sillim line connecting Yeouido, western Seoul, and Sangdo-dong, Dongjak

District in southern Seoul; Dongbuk line connecting Seongdong District, northern Seoul and Junggye-dong, Nowon District in northeastern Seoul; Myeonmok line connecting Sinnae-dong, Jungnang District, central Seoul and Cheongryangri, central Seoul; Seobu line connecting Eunpyeong District, northern Seoul and Seoul National University (SNU); Mokdong line connecting Sinwol-dong, Yangpyeong District and Dangsan-dong, Yeongdeungpo District, both in western Seoul.

Other than these five lines, another line connecting Wooi-dong and Sinseol-dong, northern Seoul, that’s been under construction since 2009, will be expanded to Banhak-dong, connecting it with Wooi-dong. The line will be completed by 2014.

In 2007, the city government announced a plan to create six light rail lines, but it was postponed as the lines were predicted not to have enough passengers except the Wooi-Sinseol line.

A plan for creating a circular line Digital Media City in Sangam-dong, western Seoul, which was in the city’s 2007 plan, has been scrapped due to lack of demand.

The city government had said the light rail would have enough demand.

For the Seobu line (Eunpyeong-SNU), for instance, the city government predicted that about 340,000 citizens, including residents in Gwanak District and people nearby will use the line.

It added that the station building will be located on Seoul National University’s campus and the university will support the half of the construction cost.

The light rail project was postponed by Park Won-soon who became Seoul mayor in October 2011.

“We need to carefully check whether the project is feasible to carry out because projects funded by private investors like this later become a heavy burden for taxpayers,” Park said.

The city government began re-reviewing the feasibility of the project in January last year.

The line was likely to be built under a build-transfer-operate (BTO) contract system. With this system, private investors receive concessions from the government to finance, construct and operate a business for a limited time and eventually return business ownership to the government.

The question is how the city government will provide necessary funds for the project. Seoul is already about 3 trillion won ($2.6 billion) in debt as of 2012 and one of Park’s primary pledges is to reduce the debt during his term.

Roh Byeong-chun, director of the city’s transport division, said 50 percent of the funds will come from private investors, while the central government will cover 12 percent and the city government the remaining 38 percent.

Another problem is the fare system. Most privately-funded transportation systems charge more than public lines. The basic projected fare for the Wooi-Sinseol line is 1,400 won, which is 300 won more than Subway line No. 2.

The city government said it could lower the fare by using 100 billion won of its own budget, but it hasn’t provided the funds as of yet.

“We are considering many suggestions to lower the citizens’ burdens in using these lines,” Roh said.

BY KWON SANG-SOO [sakwon80@joongang.co.kr]

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