Business & Economy

High-speed rail deep below ground, Seoul’s mission to alleviate rush hour

By Andrés Sánchez Braun

Tokyo, Apr 2 (efe-epa).- The South Korean capital Seoul looks to bypass notoriously long commuter hours with a new system of high-speed trains capable of traveling 180km/h some 50 meters underground, a goal that comes with a long list of engineering challenges.

While Seoul proper has a population of 10 million it sits at the heart of an urban sprawl connecting the 13.4 inhabitants of Gyeonggi province and the three million people in neighboring Incheon.

The capital’s director of high-speed rail, Jan Chang-seog, recently said that “it takes on average 113 minutes a day to travel to and from work, compared to an average time of 28 minutes in the OECD.”

Although Seoul is also mulling the possibility of futuristic drone transport, for over a decade it has looked to the ground, rather than the sky, in its quest to alleviate the nightmare commute at rush hour.

The project, dubbed the Great Train eXpress (GTX), broke ground in 2019 when construction started on the first of its three routes, line A, which will link the cities of Paju, to the north of the capital, and Hwaseong, to the south, with a travel time of just 55 minutes.

Three of the 10 stations on the line will be in central Seoul and will connect with the existing metro service.

“The trains will travel at an average speed of 100km/h compared to the average speed of 30km/h if you travel by bus, metro or car at rush hour,” Jang said, adding that the journey time for the outskirts to central Seoul would be 30 minutes.

When all three lines are up and running in around 2025 — at a cost of 14.8 billion won ($13B) — there will be an estimated 880,000 fewer vehicles circulating the region, which should reduce pollution in the South Korean capital.

However, the bid to construct new lines underground — which must be as straight as possible to allow for high-speed — brings with it a host of engineering challenges.

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