Via a Open Thread reader tip comes this update on the LRT line constructed in Uijongbu known as the U-Line:
With sleek railcars sliding along elevated tracks, South Korea’s newest light railway is a smooth ride, and the hope is that it can avoid the fiscal train wreck facing similar projects.
But passenger estimates for the rubber-wheeled, driverless light rail transit (LRT) system, which will open to the public in Uijeongbu city north of Seoul on July 1, have already been scaled back.
And government researchers say the 11.1-kilometre (6.9 mile) stretch of line, which was built under a public-private partnership deal, will cost taxpayers 10 billion won ($8.6 million) a year for the next decade on top of the vast sums already spent.
“Other LRT projects in the country went awry but we believe this one will be different,” said Lee Myung-Se, vice president of Uijeongbu LRT Co.
“Unlike other LRTs, there will be enough demand as it passes through the most populated areas and carries commuters fast to a station where they can transfer to the main subway line linked to Seoul.”
The 15-station line took five years and cost 547 billion won ($469 million) to build — 297.4 billion won from a South Korean consortium led by GS Engineering & Construction and 249.6 billion won from taxpayers.
The French unit of multinational Siemens won orders worth 157 million euros ($196 million) and hopes the project will pave the way for other LRT contracts in South Korea, one of the world’s most densely populated large countries.
“An LRT system is quite ideal for Korean cities because of its flexibility and low costs compared to traditional heavy subway systems,” Benoit Pirard, commercial manager of the project, told AFP.
Researchers for the national parliament are not, however, hopeful about the bottom line. The initial forecast in 2006 estimated daily average passengers at 57,000 but this was scaled back to 31,000 last year.
Based on the latest estimate, the National Assembly Research Service (NARS) predicted in April the line would likely lose 10 billion won a year for the next 10 years. [Bangkok Post]
More can be read at the link, but the construction of the U-Line is something that has been controversial with locals. On my posting about Uijongbu last year I mentioned how the LRT had become a major eyesore throughout the city.
A long time friend of mine in Uijongbu told me that the U-Line was nothing more than a big public works hand out to the construction companies that built it. Due to the road widening in Uijongbu traffic there moves much better than it did 10 years ago. I can remember when it took about an hour to drive from Camp Stanley to Camp Red Cloud. Now it can be done in half that time during even peak traffic times.
It seems like if the roads were not widened then the LRT would have been a good idea, but widening the roads and then putting in the LRT I think has greatly reduced demand for it. Why take the U-Line to go to the subway station when you can just walk outside of your apartment and have a bus pick you up and take you to the subway station in probably an equal amount of time? If Uijongbu continues to grow at the breakneck pace we have seen in the past 10 years than maybe the U-Line will in fact eventually pick up demand that would justify its construction.