The first railway in Korea ran from Incheon to Seoul, a distance of 26 miles (42 km). The first section, from Incheon to Noryangjin on the banks of the Han river opened in 1899; the final section, with a major bridge across the river taking the railway into central Seoul, opened the following year. The line was built to standard gauge (1435 mm), as were most subsequent lines in the southern part of the country.
The South Korean network was disconnected from that of North Korea following the partition of 1945. A connection was officially reopened in 2003 on what had been the main line between Seoul and Pyongyang, but trains did not run until 2007. Freight traffic was sparse and services ceased in 2008. Despite aspirations, no passenger services used the restored link. Plans were announced in late 2018 to reopen the link, which in addition to allowing trade between the two countries would enable through freight services between South Korea and China. A trial train ran over the link in November of that year.
A second cross-border link was reopened in 2007 northward from Jeojin. Tourist passenger services provided access to Mount Kumgang in North Korea, which is open to visitors from the south. These services are believed to have ceased in 2008. The line is isolated from the rest of the South Korean network, but in 2022 work began on a 122km railway connecting Jeojin with the rest of the network at Gangneung, thus providing a second potential route for through trains from North Korea and China.
One other pre-partition railway crosses the present border, in the region of the Baekma Highlands. This line also under consideration for reopening, although clearly considered a lower priority. A planned ground-breaking ceremony for the restoration of the line near the border in 2015 was not supported by the North Korean government nor attended by any of its representatives.
The first section of a new 308km railway between Busan and Samcheok on the east coast opened in 2016 from Busan to Ilgwang, a distance of 28.5 km. The line is being opened in stages, with final stage to Samcheok currently planned for opening in 2022.
In 2017, work commenced on the first line of a new commuter rail network for Seoul, known as Great Train eXpress or GTX. The 83km Line A is planned for completion in 2024.
In 2021, a new 54km high speed line opened between Incheon and Chungju, the first section of a planned 178km line to Geoje.
© 2005-2022 Glyn Williams
Photo image © Korea Tourism Organization