Korea’s Trains

Written by on March 22, 2012 in Lifestyle

When traveling abroad, one of the things many take for granted once they leave Korea is the incredible transportation network that’s been put in place. For example, in Seoul an innumerable number of taxis comb the streets, ready to pick up passengers and ferry them to their destinations. Public transit also abounds with color-coded buses crisscrossing city streets and a subway system servicing more than 15 million people daily. However, when traveling across the nation, and especially from Seoul to Busan, many opt to the railways. This gives riders three options, but what exactly do they entail?

The Mugunghwa-ho class of trail is the oldest and slowest of the trains operating today. In fact, prior to 2004 when the Korea Train Express (KTX) was introduced, it was the most frequently used. Today, the Mugunghwa-ho class train operates on nearly every line in the country. On some of the more rural rail routes (like the Gyeongbuk Line), it is the only class of train in operation. The Mugunghwa-ho class trains were built to ferry large numbers of passengers throughout the nation, stopping at virtually every train station along a route. Because of this, the cars accommodate 70-seated passengers in addition to standing-room-only riders.

This train class takes its name from Korea’s national flower and offers a number of amenities. Each car is quipped with seats that can rotate, allowing passengers to face one another. This feature is widely used by families and friends traveling together. A Café Car provides snacks, games, Internet connectivity, and singing rooms for those on board. Mungunghwa-ho trains are quite common, so it’s quite easy to catch a ride. A ticket from Seoul to Busan costs between W20,000 and W30,000 on average; however, because of the frequent stops, the journey lasts 5 hours, 45 minutes.

Prior to the KTX being introduced, the Saemaeul-ho class train was the nation’s fastest. It made the Seoul to Busan run in under five hours and still does so today. The Saemaeul introduced several upgrades over its predecessor, namely more space. Gone are the standing areas as well as a few rows. Each car now only has 60 passengers, meaning that each seat is larger, wider, and with more legroom. There’s little else different between this class and the Mugunghwa-ho, as they both have the same amenities. The price however, does go up and will usually cost in the neighborhood of W30,000 -W40,000 for the trip to Busan from Seoul Station.

Unfortunately, the Saemaeul-ho trains don’t travel as often or as to as many destinations as their slower cousins. Today, the class only travels on five of the nations rail lines: Gyeongbu, Janghang, Honam, Jeolla, and Jinhae Lines. The name of the train class comes from the Saemaeul Undong movement to develop Korea’s economy under President Park Chung Hee in the 1970s.

Image Credit: KORAIL via Wikipedia

1992 saw the nation begin construction on a new class of train – the Korea Train eXpress (KTX). This new system would connect major population centers at a rapid speed. Originally derived from a French system, domestic engineers co-developed technology for implementation. In 2004, the first KTX set off and by 2007 the rail line was making a profit. The KTX is the most popular class of train in operation today. It currently serves four different lines (Gyeongbu, Honam, Jeolla, and Gyeongjeon) with more planned. PyeongChang, home of the 2018 Winter Olympics, will see the KTX there to assist visitors and participants alike.

The KTX surfs the rails at speeds of more than 300kph. The next incarnation calls for trains cruising at 370kph to make the Seoul – Busan run in under two hours. These trains offer a number of advantages such as an upgraded First Class, Cinema Cars, and Internet access in each car. The KTX is also handicap accessible. These features and speed come at a price, though. The trip from Seoul to Busan in economy class costs between W40,000 and W50,000.


Depending on a traveler’s need, they can select the best traveling option. If one must get there fast, then the KTX is available; however, if time is not of the essence or if opting to travel overnight, then the slower Saemaeul might be preferred. If no seats are available, there there’s even an option for that. What kind of traveling option do you prefer? Slow and cheap or fast and a little more pricy?

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Steve Miller

Steve Miller, the QiRanger, is Korea’s best-known travel video blogger-journalist. His videos have been viewed by millions and seen on media outlets in throughout the word. In addition to sharing his entertaining and informative videos, he writes about life abroad and releases a popular podcast. Steve appears regularly on international radio stations, talking about travel, Korean culture and East Asian news. He’s also appeared on Arirang Television sharing unique aspects of Korean life. You can follow Steve on Twitter @QiRanger or visit his site QiRanger.com.