South Korea hopes new speed train links will help boost birthrate By Reuters

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By Cynthia Kim and Jihoon Lee

SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korea is launching a high-speed train project that will reduce travel time between Seoul and its outskirts, a project officials hope will encourage more young people to consider homes outside the city, and start having children.

South Korea has one of the lowest birth rates in the world, and its young people often cite long commutes and cramped, expensive housing in the big city of Seoul, where nearly half the population is, as the main reasons for staying single and starting a family.

The birth rate in Seoul is much lower than the national rate, and the government has tried to boost the number of newborns through subsidies, without success.

Officials are now pinning their hopes on the Great Train eXpress (GTX), a successful 134 trillion ($99.5 billion) project that, by 2035, will provide six lines connecting Seoul to several remote areas.

On Friday, President Yoon Suk Yeol inaugurated the first part of the line, which will reduce the travel time from Suseo in the capital to the satellite city of Dongtan to 19 minutes from the current 80 minutes by bus.

The shorter commute “will help people spend more time with their families in the morning and evening,” he said.

The line is due to start operating on Saturday, and once operational, the GTX will be one of the fastest systems in the world, with trains traveling at speeds of up to 180 km per hour (112 mph), officials said.

Owning a home in South Korea is expensive, with average prices hitting a record high in June 2021 after rising 45% over five years. Seoul is very expensive, offering some of the best value for money per square foot of any major economy, experts say.

Land Minister Sang-woo told Reuters that the GTX will allow young people to focus on housing away from the capital without spending hours on the road. When they return they can go to their families, he added.

“With a two-hour drive home, for example, how can anyone make time to spend with the babies?

Some experts, however, said that GTX could contribute to South Korea’s rural decline, by pumping more people into the already overcrowded capital.

“In order to revive urban areas that are on the verge of extinction, the most important thing is to prepare other areas with infrastructure,” said Kim Jin-yoo, a professor of Urban Planning & Transportation Engineering at Kyonggi University.

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