When it comes to moving from one region to another in Korea, express buses and trains such as the KTX train are the preferred methods of transport for a majority of citizens. The KTX is popular due to its high-speed operation, second only to airplanes. On the back of this popularity, plans for ‘double-decker KTX’ rail cars by 2023 are being actively pursued. In the run-up to this introduction of the double-decker KTX, I want to take this opportunity to raise some questions regarding the management of the high speed rail by the National Railroad Administration, KORAIL.
The KTX was originally introduced as an affordable alternative to airplanes, for quick, long-distance travel within Korea. But the question has to be asked about the appropriateness of the KTX, as a suitable mode of transportation, for ordinary people. This is because, despite a number of civil complaints filed against KORAIL, there have been no signs of reformation ahead and business continues as usual. So what are some of the problems with KTX operations?
First the reimbursement policy of the KTX needs review. At present, it is possible to cancel and receive a full refund for one’s ticket, up until the time of departure, either via the Internet or at the ticket office. However, refunds are no longer possible after the KTX has arrived at its final destination. For express buses, on the other hand, a refund is issued (minus a 20% service charge) at any point, after representatives are able to confirm the passenger did not board the bus. This refund is not available for KTX ticket holders. In other words, where passengers did not actually board the train, there should be a possibility of receiving a refund, even if it includes withholding a handling fee. Yet regulations at KORAIL do not provide for this, obliging passengers to forfeit the full sum of money. In many cases, passengers that fail to board their train have made the mistake during reservation or simply show up on the wrong day. These passengers are unable to reclaim any part of their money and this has led to a high number of consumer complaints regarding the refund regulations.
Second, the KTX is more expensive than other KORAIL trains, such as the Mugunghwa-ho, Saemaeul-ho and Nuriro. It is questionable, though, whether the characteristics of KTX justify a price that is so much higher than the others. Normally we assume we pay a higher in exchange for better quality of service, but the KTX is no different from other trains that are much cheaper.
I have at one point been a passenger on a KTX train. During that time, there was a customer smoking in one of the toilets, causing the train to be filled with cigarette smoke. Passengers complained about this to crew, but they were told there was nothing they could do about it. According to rail regulations, smoking passengers are liable to pay a fine, but these sanctions are useless if they are not being enforced. In addition, an ordinary KTX train consists of 18 cars, but there is only one nursing room on board. So again, despite passengers paying more money to receive a higher-quality service, the inside of a KTX does not offer anything more than conventional trains, leaving us to question, just what exactly are we paying for?
With these complaints in mind, it is doubtful whether or not the KTX can be called a means of transport for ordinary people. KORAIL, as a public enterprise run by the state, has to have as its aim to provide an affordable and convenient mode of transport for ordinary people. Furthermore, it is obvious that passengers should be able to expect a higher standard of service in return for the high ticket prices. It remains questionable however, whether they are getting their money’s worth. It is also worth wondering if KORAIL possesses the will to resolve these issues in the future.