By Do Je-hae
Bullet trains, or KTX, will now go to the southeastern city of Ulsan for the first time starting in November. The service will trim the travel time between the industrial hub and Seoul to 2 hours from more than four hours by regular train.
Ulsan is adding the final touches to a new rail station devoted to the KTX service. The fare for the Seoul-Ulsan connection is 50,000 won.
"We are conducting thorough training to our staff so that they can provide the best service to our passengers," Sung Gap-seop, chief of the Ulsan KTX Station, told Yonhap Tuesday.
"We plan to promote the opening of the new station through websites for public organizations and at major train stations across the country."
The new establishment, currently being completed on the outskirts of the city, will be known as the Ulsan KTX Station, and the existing Ulsan Station in downtown will be renamed the Taehwa River Station, after the signature river that runs through Ulsan.
Residents in the nearby cities of Gyeongju, Gimhae, Pohang, Yangsan and others will also benefit from the new KTX service, according to authorities.
KORAIL, operator of all KTX lines, has been conducting trial runs of the extended section of the 223.6 km Gyeongbu high-speed line between Seoul and Busan, which will pass through Ulsan to reach its final destination of eastern Daegu. The extended section will be operational before the G20 Summit on Nov. 11.
The latest trial run took place Tuesday for a delegation of journalists. Hosted by Mayor Bak Maeng-woo, another test run will be held Friday for 250 dignitaries.
As the corporate base of the multinational Hyundai Group, Ulsan is the center of Korea's automobile and shipbuilding industries. It houses the country's largest shipyard, automobile assembly plant and one of the world's largest oil refineries. Ulsan also has the highest gross regional domestic product per person at 43 million won.
"We will also seek the promotion of the new KTX service among corporations housed within and in the vicinity of Ulsan," Sung added.
Ulsan, a seaside industrial capital 70km north of Busan, sees the launch of the KTX service as a turning point, especially for its tourism sector. It is not a famous tourist destination but has a sizable foreign population that includes a mixture of engineers, migrant workers and English teachers.
The city will develop tourism programs related to the KTX service and build a tourist information center at the station. The local government also plans to provide transportation between the station and Ulsan City Hall for the convenience of city tour passengers.
Official statistics show that there are around 15,000 non-Koreans residing in the city, making up about 1.3 percent of its total population. In particular, there are 9,500 foreign workers, constituting 3.8 percent of the city's total workforce of 249,000.
Meanwhile, Korea is currently one of the four countries in the world that can independently produce high speed trains which run at the maximum speed of 350km/h. The other three are Japan, France and Germany.