The new £78.8bn high speed train aimed at helping people have more babies | World | News

The country is launching a high-speed rail network that will reduce the travel time from its capital centre to the outskirts in a bid to encourage more young people to have children. 

South Korea has the world’s lowest birth rate, as young people have cited cramped and expensive housing in greater Seoul, along with long commutes, as reasons for not getting married and starting a family. 

On average, the number of expected babies for a South Korean woman during her child-bearing years sunk to 0.65 for the final three months of 2023, with it likely that the figure will fall to 0.6 this year.

At this rate, Statistics Korea forecasts that South Korea’s population will fall to 36 million in 50 years. Currently, the population stands at just below 52 million.

Owning a home in Seoul is particularly expensive, offering some of the worst value for money per square foot of any advanced economy, analysts say.

According to Statistica, as of November 2023, the mean purchase price of housing in the capital amounted to over £467,000. Apartments are the most expensive of all housing times, costing over half a million pounds on average. Living in apartments is typical for Seoul, as an increasing number of citizens move towards the city, causing high population density.

Seoul’s birth rate is even lower than the national average, with government efforts failing to reverse the decline with subsidies worth £213 billion since 2006. Previous attempts at boosting the birth rate included a South Korean construction company – Booyoung – offering huge bonuses of over £59,000 per birth to its staff if they have children. 

The latest attempt to spur rates is the Great Train eXpress (GTX), which is expected to provide six lines linking Seoul to several outlying areas by 2035. The government is spending 134 trillion won, or £78.8 billion on the project. 

The first section of the line opened in March this year, cutting commute time from Suseo in the capital to Dongtan, south of Seoul, to 19 minutes instead of 80 by bus. The section was inaugurated by President Yoon Suk Yeol.

Once fully operational, the network will be one of the fastest underground systems in the world, with trains travelling at speeds of 112 mph, according to officials. 

Park Sang-woo, South Korea’s Land Minister, said the GTX would allow young people to consider homes further from the capital without having to spend hours commuting.

“With a two-hour commute on the way home, for example, how can anyone make time for babies? The idea is to give people more leisure time after work,” he said.

However, some argue that the GTX could contribute to the decline of rural South Korea, by sucking more people into the already overcrowded capital.

“To revive regional towns facing extinction, the most important thing is to equip other areas with a similar kind of public infrastructure too,” said Kim Jin-yoo, professor of Urban Planning and Transportation Engineering at Kyonggi University.

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