Korea ranks fourth in the world in terms of technology in high-speed rail networks after France, Germany and Japan. The country was the fifth in the world to build a high-speed rail network and rose to fourth place just 16 years after it began development of the KTX bullet train.
When Korea began the KTX development, the top speed was 159 km/h and its technology lagged 15 years behind France, but now that gap has narrowed to just three to five years, while up to 88 percent of the components are manufactured locally, said Kim Ki-hwan, head of the high-speed rail team at the Korea Railroad Research Institute.
Korea now stands on par with advanced countries when it comes to the maximum speed. The KTX makes 300 km/h, which is the same as other bullet trains. China's high-speed train is faster, traveling between 330 km/h to 350 km/h, but it trails behind Korea in terms of technology. However, Korea still has some catching up to do when it comes to train manufacture and signaling equipment. Hyundai Rotem, which manufactured the KTX-Sancheon, is the world's fifth-largest manufacturer of high-speed trains.
Korea is second to none in terms of civil engineering and track construction. Kim Byung-ho, head of the high-speed rail project at the Korea Rail Network Authority said, "We are at the same level as France, Germany and Japan in terms of civil engineering and track technology. Foreign technicians praised Korea's technology in those fields as the best in the world when we tested the the new route."
Korea, China, Japan, France, Germany, Italy and Spain are the only countries capable of exporting high-speed rail technology. It takes more than just trains to operate a high-speed rail service. Signal systems, communications networks, construction and operating knowhow are also necessary and must be developed in conjunction.
Korea is seeking to export its technology to Brazil and the U.S. state of California. If successful, it would be its first export of the technology. As far as Brazil goes, officials say Korea is a tad behind advanced countries in terms of technology but has everything Brazil wants at a cheaper price. It is also good at transferring technology so it stands a good chance of landing the deal, they add.