Suseo KTX, a subsidiary of KORAIL that will operate a new bullet train line departing from Suseo Station in southern Seoul from 2016, was officially launched on Friday amid both expectations and concerns.
“Through positive competition with KORAIL, we will introduce a more efficient management system into the nation’s railway industry,” said the founding committee in a statement.
“We will offer greater convenience for passengers in southern Seoul who have experienced difficulties using the bullet train. An additional 20,000 passengers are expected to use the bullet train.”
Currently, the KTX high-speed trains depart from Seoul or Yongsan Stations, both in the northern part of the capital city, causing inconveniences for those living in southern Seoul or other metropolitan areas.
The new Suseo line will be running south to Pyeongtaek in Gyeonggi Province to connect with the existing Gyeongbu line to Busan, possibly from 2016.
But the government’s plan to set up a separate subsidiary to operate the lucrative line faced fierce resistance from the labor union of KORAIL.
The government claimed the decision would bring positive competition with its debt-ridden parent company, while the union called it a step toward selling off the KTX service to private operators, which would ultimately lead to layoffs and fare hikes.
Even though the government denied the allegation flatly, the union pushed ahead with a large-scale walkout on Dec. 9 and the strike continued for a record 22 days.
Without clear consensus between the labor and management, some 1,000 workers have returned to work.
In phases to be completed in 2016, the company plans to expand the Suseo KTX into an organization consisting of three divisions and 430 workers. Kim Bok-hwan, former corporate affairs chief at KORAIL, was named the first CEO.
About 160 billion won will be poured into the Suseo KTX project. Of this year’s 80 billion won, 41 percent will come from KORAIL, with 59 percent from public funds such as the National Pension Service.
This year the company said it will focus on preparation work, including securing more funding, planning operation schedules, building computer networks and making orders for new trains.
After completing test-drives with new trains and drivers in 2015, the company will start the operation of the new KTX line from 2016. In the meantime, the whole process is expected to come under intense public scrutiny.
By Lee Ji-yoon