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Honestly! I’m not a trainspotter!

Posted in Photo diary, services and facilities, Technology by 노강호 on September 26, 2011

In December 2010, I took some photos for a post I intended writing on the KTX (KTX – Gold Standard. Jan 2011). After downloading them on to my UK computer, a glitch erased them. Then this week, I discover that I hadn’t erased the file but transfered it to my palm-reader which as a white elephant, rarely gets used.

The older type KTX, the sleek design inspired by the snout of a shark

The KTX San Ch'eon class engine

The San Ch'eon class was launched in March 2010

carriage entrances where there are usually free bottles of water, computer re-charging booths

one of the most impressive features: the on-board cinema

usually there are around 12 carriages not including two engines and a cinema.

I’m not in the least interested in trains in general and didn’t make a special trip to take these photos. I took them on my way to London back in December 2010. In the UK, train spotting is a hobby, uniquely British and which has a long tradition. Trainspotters have their own fashion’ frequently derided and spend weekends standing on the ends of platforms equipped with cameras and notebooks. I imagine, though it might be a falsehood, that they get extremely excited exchanging chassis numbers or discussing changes in livery.  They are the butt of  numerous jokes and to be called a ‘trainspotter’  is not complimentary.

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© 林東哲 2011 Creative Commons Licence.

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KTX – Gold Standard

Posted in bathhouse Ballads, Comparative, services and facilities, Technology by 노강호 on January 29, 2011

the impressive KTX, launched on April 1 2004 with speed of 186 mph (later increased to 190 mph)

KTX 1 launched April 1 2002 with top working speed of 300 kph (186 mph)

(This was later increased to 305 kph (190 mph))

KTX 2 (Sancheon) introduced March 2 2010 with top working speed of 350 kph (217 mph) It is named ‘Sancheon’ after the Cherry Salmon

KTX 3 with a top working speed now  likely to be 370 kph (230 mph) is due to appear in 2015

HEMU 400X will take speeds to 400 kph (249 mph). Line test begin in 2012. This is the second of 2 experimental trains the other being the HSR-350x

Cherry Salmon

If I hadn’t been so tired after almost 32 hours of traveling, I’d have taken some photos. I am totally in love with the Korean KTX train service and traveling first class is well worth the extra money. Though the British 125, high-speed train towing 7-8 carriages at a maximum speed of 125 mile per hour, has been the backbone of British intercity travel for thirty years, it is far from the golden standard of travel even if you sit in first class. And it might not be upgraded within the next 10 years! The KTX service is certainly a limited service, operating to only a few destinations but despite being less than 10 years old,  services are being extended and new engines and rolling stock introduced.  Towing 18 carriages, at a top speed of just over 200 mph, the compartments are fairly quiet  and you might be fooled into thinking the train isn’t traveling so fast. However, having kept an eye on the carriage plasma screens, where the speed is constantly visible, we traveled at about 290 kph for most of the journey (that’s c. 180 mph). The KTX, modeled on the French TGV system, is a technological masterpiece but  it isn’t just technology and speed that make a service ‘gold standard.’

British first-class train travel when it was more than just ‘oik’ free

When trains stop at stations prior to departing for another destination, a small army of cleaners purge the train and ‘spruce it up.’  In the UK, a class divided society, first-class bestows kudos and is a great way to feel superior over fellow travelers by reminding them you have more money. Apart from the absence of  ‘oiks,’ there is very little else to attract potential customers and first class on British trains can hardly be compared to business-class on airlines. KTX first-class however, is quite different and very comparable to airline business class standards.  A carpet with at least a little pile cushions your feet and it’s clean, a fact you can tell because the light fawn colour highlights any dirt – which there isn’t. I don’t remember if British Rail has carpets on the first-class floor but if they do, they are certainly not a light colour but most definitely dark blue or brown or some other dirt-masking colour.   The seats are broad and spacious and their backs can be adjusted with an electrically assisted motor, to provide ultimate comfort. A small buffet car provides refreshments and is the headquarters for the refreshment trolleys that service both first and second class. There are male and female toilets, baby changing and feeding stations, small recesses to power mobile devices and wi-fi internet access and sockets for powering computers are provide throughout the train. In all carriages plasma screens  provide a range of information and are coordinated with the journey’s progress so that as a program ends the approaching station is announced and often there may then follow some useful information on that town or city. On first class, snacks such as peanuts or biscuits and bottled water are complimentary provisions.

The KTX cinema carriage

Staff are highly visible on trains and their bearing and dress is impeccable and perhaps it is this more than anything else that puts the KTX service on a par with the business class of an airline. In addition, if you’re making a longer journey, the train’s cinema carriage provides a unique experience. The next wave of KTX rolling stock will have first class seats that can swivel 360 degrees and though I’m not sure how it will materialise, but several reports claim the new rolling stock will have basic cooking resources for passengers. I can’t imagine this meaning trains will have gas ranges and barbecue facilities so imagine it might mean publicly available microwaves.



Meanwhile, back in ‘Broken Britain,’ from early 2011, London-Scotland routes will be terminating the refreshment trolley to second class carriages while  first class provisions will be upgraded with passengers being served, at their seats, as many sandwiches and drinks as they can consume before  reaching their destination.  Management seem to think this will attract more customers but with British rail prices one of the most expensive in Europe, you have to be a retard to spend the equivalent of between the price of a two course all for the sake of  some complimentary sandwiches.  British rail sandwiches were never very palatable even when you paid inflated prices for them. I am reminded of the doomed Titanic and the manning of lifeboats in order of class.

This model, currently being developed, is able to tilt

The experimental HSR 350X which reaches speeds of 350 kph (217 mph)

I am very tempted to make a first-class journey on one of East Coast’s trains simply to see how many sandwiches I could gorge myself on before the train reaches the first stop, where I would alight.

At this point I did a little research. A ticket  from London King’s Cross, to Nottingham, on an East Coast train, which can be used at anytime of day making it comparable to the KTX ticket, on which there are no time restrictions,  costs £64 second-class and £90 first class. That’s a difference of £26. At 2 hours 11 minutes, the traveling time is about 20 minutes longer than Seoul to Daegu. If I travel 2nd class the difference will easily buy a two course meal in a decent restaurant or,  short of £9, book a room in Nottingham’s Days Hotel.  If I go first-class I am sure I could  eat at least ten sandwiches and a couple of cups of tea and with a sandwich or two in my pocket, I could certainly eat my way into a substantial part of the profit the company would otherwise take.

the sleek shark-like design was apparently deliberate

The blue shark. An urban myth, perhaps?

Out of interest, Seoul to Daegu cost approx £38 (first class) with the distance being 322 kilometers. King’s Cross to Nottingham is 174 kilometers.  Based on departure and arrival times, I calculated the KTX travels at approx 175 kph or 108 mph while the Nottingham destined train, an intercity train, travels at 108 kph or 49 mph.  Using my rather basic skills of arithmetic, this means the KTX costs 19 pence per mile (12 pence per kilometer) while the East Coast company train costs 83 pence per mile (51 pence per kilometer). Travel on a comparative service in terms of ticket usage and  train service means the UK service is 4.37 times more expensive and yet  2.2o times slower than a journey on KTX. The London to Aberdeen journey is a long haul of  8 hours thirty minutes which means a second class passenger is going to be very thirsty and hungry at the end of their journey. However, simply pay the extra £50 and all the sandwiches and tea you want will be waiting for you.

The KTX Sancheon began service on March 2 2010 and reaches 230 kph (205 mph)  KTX 3, with a speed of 250 kph (217 mph) will be introduced in 2015

The shape of things to come. The next generation capable of speeds in excess of 400 kph (248 mph) are already being planned

Related Articles

(Several years ago Korail reduced the numbers of staff on the KTX and dismissed a large number of attendants. Many took the matter to court and even went  on hunger strike. Link to Korea Times article.)

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