Regular visitors are probably well aware that Diego is something of a railfan. That said, in spite of all the train journeys I’ve taken through the years (particularly in Japan), I’ve tended to fold those accounts into Field Reports rather than write separate posts about them. Even though that pattern will continue for most ordinary intra- and inter-city commutes, I shall now create separate blog entries for journeys that stand out for some reason: new or noteworthy rolling stock, scenic routes, or other attributes that warrant special attention.
Let’s begin this new series with a short inter-city hop on a South Korean tourist train.
Note: Schedule/route information, equipment type, and other details are accurate only for the specific journey documented here. This information may not necessarily apply to previous or future trips, even if offered by the same railway company on the same route and under the same service designation.
Railway company : KORAIL
Service designation : S-train 4873
Date of journey : Monday, 28 September 2015
Country : South Korea
Origin : Seoul Station (dep. 07:54)
Destination : Suwon Station (arr. 08:29)
Journey type : One way, partial. The S-train’s ultimate destination was Yeosu Expo Station (arr. 12:47), but I only travelled on a very short portion of the route.
Ticket price : KRW 8,400 for my short hop between Seoul and Suwon. Note that a complete one-way journey to Yeosu would have cost me KRW 47,600.
Let’s have a glimpse of the route – or something that looks like it, anyway. Google Maps’ system-generated chart is for a different service from the one I travelled on, but it should be enough to give us some idea of the ground my train covered.
My main sightseeing target for the day was the Korean Folk Village, in Yongin. There were several options for getting there from downtown Seoul, but as a train enthusiast, the route that I found most appealing was the one that required a transfer at Suwon Station on the Gyeongbu Line – an option that gave me the perfect excuse to board a long-distance train (despite the fairly short distance involved). My first thought was to use a high-speed KTX service, mainly for the experience rather than for any potential time savings over regular trains (negligible since it travels quite slowly on this initial stretch before picking up speed further on towards Busan). But when I saw the special tourist-oriented S-train pop up amongst the timetables, I decided that it would be more fun to travel via that service instead.
We’ll see why in a moment. First, we need to get on board.
After purchasing my ticket at Seoul Station…
…I made my way to the concourse above the boarding platforms and headed for number 7.
Observe how the information board gave the S-train’s ultimate destination as “여수EXPO” (“Yeosu EXPO”), the final stop in a full journey that would have taken nearly five hours. Not the fastest choice for a commute from the Korean capital – the KTX, by way of Yongsan Station, links the two cities in just 3 hours – but the whole point of KORAIL’s growing list of special tourist trains is slower, more enjoyable travel, designed for leisure rather than speed … an ethos that’s reflected in the layout and appointments of the rolling stock assigned to these services.
Of course, taking full advantage of those features requires time, which passengers staying on board all the way to the terminus will have in spades. My own disembarkation point, Suwon, was a mere 35 minutes away from the start of the route – not nearly enough time to enjoy the train’s many onboard amenities and activities, but sufficient for a quick look around.
Down to the platform, then…
…where I found a massive locomotive parked near the foot of the stairs. And just behind this beast of burden…
…was a series of five brightly decorated passenger carriages.
I took a good look at the interiors as I walked aft towards my assigned seat in Car #2. The tourist-oriented, family-friendly design of this train was perfectly evident from the moment I stepped on, with the colourful décor and themed carriages hinting at the various activities and services that I might have enjoyed had I stayed on board longer. There was, for example, the tea room, complete with traditional floor seats…
…a nostalgia-evoking car that had a school playground-themed section complete with “chalk” hopscotch court, as well as greasy spoon-style seating enlivened with images of old movie posters and records from decades past…
…and a passenger compartment featuring rows of comfy-looking seats and group-friendly booths equipped with tables.
Interestingly, even though I was travelling solo, the ticket agent had assigned me one of the four-person booths. I had this semi-private piece of the car all to myself on the brief Seoul-to-Suwon leg.
There were other parts of the train that I didn’t get to explore; unfortunately, those will have to wait for next time.
All things considered, even though I had to get off not long after I first got on, the short ride was very pleasant indeed – and quite likely more enjoyable than a comfortable but boring run in the businesslike atmosphere of the KTX or the ITX-Saemaeul. I’ve already got longer, more leisurely travel plans tentatively sketched out in my head for future visits to Korea, and a full journey on the S-train is something I might add to the list.