A group of tourists enjoy their tea, sitting on the floor and chatting cross-legged while another group enjoys a foot bath, all on board a moving train.
The Tour Trains run by Korail, Korea's largest train operator, are attracting more and more railway travelers. After the launch of the O-train and the V-train in 2013, more than 1.58 million travelers took a trip on the designated trains, and the operator's profits exceeded KRW 20.8 billion between 2013 and 2015. Even in spite of the MERS outbreak in 2015, more than 692,000 travelers boarded the trains that year, a 28.6% increase in passenger numbers over 2014. Also, the train company recorded profits of KRW 9.35 billion in 2015, a 38.9% increase over the prior year's figure.
There're currently six Tour Trains traveling the rails: the O-train and V-train head toward inland regions, the S-train crosses Gyeongsangnam-do and Jeollanam-do provinces, the A-train passes through Yeongwol and Jeongseon in Gangwon-do Province, the G-train travels to west coast towns and, finally, there're the DMZ-train.
The trains offer not only regional travel options, but also provide some very unique train travel experiences. Each train is decorated and equipped with on-board facilities in line with each train's theme. For example, the nature-friendly V-train has windows that can open, giving travelers a chance to enjoy the scenery and nature more closely, and the G-train has designated tea rooms and a cafe with foot baths. As for food, well-known regional snacks and eateries have set up shop at some of the major stations, providing travelers with an opportunity to sample some of the gourmet items from across the country.
The trains, in fact, have lead to some improvements in train tracks and station facilities. Some of the train routes pass trough regions that are suffering from economic decline and depopulation due to shifts in the overall economic structure of the country, and some of the less-frequented rail lines and stations have reported considerable deficits. However, since the tourist trains started coming through the deteriorated tracks and have begun stopping at the beautiful scenic spots, neighboring regions have been economically reinvigorated and the forgotten train stations have been reborn as tourist sites. Most notably, this has happened at Buncheon Station in Bongwha, Gyeongsangbuk-do Province, now known as the "Santa Village."