Rail strike is felt at last by commuters in Seoul area

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Rail strike is felt at last by commuters in Seoul area

The Korea Railroad Corporation (Korail) announced Tuesday that train and subway service from Seoul to the suburbs would be reduced by 10 percent starting that evening, the first time commuters were affected by the nationwide railroad workers’ strike that began Sept. 27.
According to Korail and the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport, 10 train and subway lines connecting Seoul and the suburbs — including subway lines No. 1, 3 and 4, and the Gyeongchun, Gyeongui-Jungang, Bundang and Suin lines — were to operate at 90.5 percent regular capacity from Tuesday evening.

Korail added, however, that train and subway service during the morning rush hour will be maintained at 100 percent. They promised the same for KTX bullet train services.

The railroad workers’ union is striking of a central government’s plan to expand a merit-based salary system. Salaries have been set by seniority in the past.

The union says the merit-based system will also lead to firings.

Some 7,470 Korail workers, or 40.8 percent of 18,300 employees assigned work on Tuesday, were on strike.

“At this rate, every employee [who is not on strike] needs to work 40 minutes longer per day,” said Lee Bok-jun, head of the transportation adjustment bureau of Korail. “The reduction of operations is to ensure employees are not overworked, as fatigue can lead to accidents.”

Commuters will have to deal with an average of 20 fewer trains and subways per line.

“Ever since the railroad workers went on strike,” said a 41-year-old commuter who travels between Osan and Seoul every day, “many commuters are choosing to use buses instead of the less-reliable trains, which means I have to stand most days on the bus on my commute to Seoul.”

The overall operations rate for passenger trains and subways Tuesday hit 84 percent, while that of freight cars fell to 41.9 percent, leading to economic losses for shipping and transport companies.

Adding fuel to fire, an independent truckers union said that truckers throughout the country will refuse to work starting from next Monday to demand the central government scrap its plans to reform transportation regulations, especially a reform that lowers the bar to becoming a trucker.

Truckers fear an increase in the supply of truckers will hurt their incomes. Critics say truckers are simply piggybacking on the railroad workers’s strike.

But if truckers do join the strike, already-strained freight and cargo industry may be paralyzed in areas. In 2008, when more than 10,000 truckers refused to work for eight days, it led to $7.2 billion in losses.

BY KIM MIN-WOOK, ESTHER CHUNG [chung.juhee@joongang.co.kr]
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