Travelers Move to Rail as Oil Prices Soar

Korea is among countries where travelers are switching to railways as oil prices continue at record highs, proving a prediction by billionaire investor Warren Buffett. Buffett has been investing in railroad stocks since April last year.

According to KORAIL, a total of 9,007,164 people traveled by railrway in June alone, an eight-year high since June 2001, when 9,044,327 people did so. In June, some 3 million people traveled by KTX, hitting an all-time high.

These figures stand in stark contrast to the reduction in numbers of those who departed Gimpo Airport by plane to domestic destinations, except Jeju and Yeosu, in June.

Railway reservations during the vacation season have also soared. Between May 1 and July 10, some 941,005 people booked train tickets for July and August, up 125,691 from last year's 815,314.

Gaining popularity among young people aged between 17 and 24 are speical tickets called "raiiro ticket." Costing W54,700 (US$1=W1,014) and introduced last year, a ticket entitles the holder to travel anywhere on the railway for seven days. Some 8,822 tickets were sold last year. Despite shortcomings -- travelers can neither book seats nor take KTX trains --more than 12,000 tickets had been sold, including reservations until Aug. 31, as of July 15 this year.

Railroads are doing well also in the U.S. and Europe too. In a story entitled "Travelers Shift to Rail as Cost of Fuel Rises" in late June, the New York Times said Amtrak "set records in May, both for the number of passengers it carried and for ticket revenues -- all the more remarkable because May is not usually a strong travel month."

The number of passengers on Eurostar, the high-speed passenger train operating under the Strait of Dover between Britain and Europe which had been outperformed by low-cost airlines, exceeded 8 million for the first time in 2007 and continues to perform well.

A recent issue of the Financial Times reported numbers at Eurostar "were 18 per cent higher in the first half of this year than last year... Ticket revenue for the half was up 24.7 percent to 369 million pounds... Eurostar services moved to St Pancras on Nov. 14 last year, after the second stage of High Speed One, the high-speed rail link between London and the Channel Tunnel, opened for traffic."

englishnews@chosun.com / Jul. 21, 2008 09:30 KST