South Korea closes $266m high-speed rail line as passengers prefer the bus

A high-speed rail line between Incheon International Airport and Seoul will cease operation in September, only four years after the $266m construction project was completed.

The operator, Korea Railroad, blamed the decision on declining ridership caused by competition from bus and coach operators.

The 300km/h line was opened for political as much as commercial reasons: the South Korean government wanted a major infrastructure project to improve access to Pyeongchang, the city that hosted the 23rd Winter Olympics in February of this year.

The line opened in June 2014 as a branch of the KTX express train system that links Seoul to five provincial cities.

During the Games, the service carried almost 21,000 a day to Pyeongchang, however, only about 3,500 passengers used it daily when they were over, which left 77% of seats unoccupied.

Part of the problem, according to the Nikkei Asian Review, was that the trains had to slow to less than 170km/h when it travelled over the country’s legacy network, whereas buses enjoy dedicated lanes, enabling them to travel between the two destinations unimpeded by traffic congestion.

Once the Olympics were over, the service was suspended, ostensibly for maintenance. Now the "money drinking hippo" (the Korean term for "white elephant") will remain as a warning to other governments to pay more attention to the business case for public infrastructure.

Image: The KTX Pyeongchang bullet train (

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