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Industrial railroads reborn as tourist attraction

In times past, trains served as the backbone of the nation’s economic development, delivering freight and coal to inland cities. As the coal industry declined and other forms of transport came into being, demand for industrial trains dwindled.

So KORAIL, the state-run railroad operator, turned the existing rail network into a tour train line in the mid-2000s.

“We paid attention to rising demand for rail tours, which offer room to think for people who live busy modern lives as they take in the beautiful scenery from out the window,” said Son Hyuk-ki of KORAIL. 
A group of children enjoy a scenic view from KORAIL’s ocean train. (KORAIL)
A group of children enjoy a scenic view from KORAIL’s ocean train. (KORAIL)

“As Alain de Botton, a Swiss-born British writer, praised travel by train in his book ‘The Art of Travel,’ the popularity of railway travel is picking up in Korea, considered by grown-ups the best aid to thought. The views from the trains at slower speeds compared to other forms of transport can lead to more colorful experiences to travelers.’’

In a bid to tap the new market, KORAIL set up Korea Tourism Development in 2004 and renovated some of the industrial-era trains for tour use. It developed railway tour packages, including the “ocean train” running alongside the nation’s coastline and the “wine train” that offers travelers a selection of wines during the tour.

One of KORAIL’s most popular train tours is the ocean train, which travels more than 58 kilometers and connects Gangneung, Donghae and Samcheok in Gangwon Province, which boasts beautiful coastlines.

Each seat of the train is tailored to provide a view of the ocean and windows are larger than those in regular trains for visitors to behold the sea waves and beaches. The full route of the train, which departs from Gangneung Station, takes approximately 1 hour and 20 minutes.

KORAIL is also proactively collaborating with tourist attractions nationwide to develop new train tours. On Thursday, it signed memoranda of understanding with historic temples, including Tongdosa Temple in Ulsan and others that are well connected through its railroads, to launch a “templestay” program.

Beyond train tours, KORAIL Tour Development expanded its business territories into the theme park business as well as the meeting, incentive tour, convention and exhibition businesses. The subsidiary of KORAIL already runs four theme parks based on train infrastructure, including the rail bike in Jeongseon and train “pension,” or lodge, in Hwacheon, both in Gangwon Province.

The rail-bike tour has recently become a popular spot for family outings and romantic getaways.

“KORAIL has many tour items based on railroads linking inland small cities nationwide. We has just launched a local farm experience program and will launch the second ocean train for the southern coastline within this year,” Son said.

By Seo Jee-yeon (