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Olympics visitors can’t store stuff : Korail reps are working to add more lockers at the last minute

Feb 09,2018
People wait for their train to arrive at Seoul Station in central Seoul. [LEE SUN-MIN]
Top: Lockers at Seoul Station are blocked off as their doors are being replaced on Wednesday. Above: Jinbu Station in Gangwon, which is the closest train station to most Olympic venues, only has 18 lockers available for guests to use. [LEE SUN-MIN]
Just in time for the PyeongChang Winter Olympic opening ceremonies, international travelers started arriving on Korean soil this week. But it seems that many in the tourism industry were caught off guard with their early arrival, and tourists visiting Korea for the first time are complaining about having difficulties arranging their trip.

“For my sister and I, this is our eighth Olympics, [and some things] are very poorly run [compared to other Olympics],” said Carol McSorley from New Jersey, who arrived in Korea with her sister and a friend on Wednesday. She said her troubles came mostly while arranging trains to travel from Seoul to the area where the Games are being held.

Alexis Jabour from Pittsburgh, who has been to Korea once before, knew how the transportation system works, so she didn’t have much trouble getting tickets. But for a first time traveler like McSorley, having to buy train tickets to Pyeongchang at the last minute made her nervous and anxious.

McSorley was also dismayed to learn that she would not be able to take her laptop to the opening ceremony. The long list of items banned at Olympic events has many thinking about where they can store their belongings while they are enjoying the competition. Many have suggested lockers as the solution, but then there’s another question - are there enough lockers and are they working?

On Thursday, some lockers at Seoul Station were out of service, as the locker operator was working on changing the doors of each locker. The new locker doors have a small window, which partly reveal what’s stored inside, for security reasons. Workers were even opening lockers with things stored inside of them, much to the surprise of onlookers.

Only two days before the opening ceremony, the inaccessible lockers were just another difficulty that many faced along the way. Those in need of a large space to store something like a suitcase had only 24 extra large lockers to choose from. Seoul Station has a total of 188 lockers.

On a Facebook page created to share travel tips among foreign visitors to Korea, some travelers have pointed out that although some stations along the KTX train line to Gangneung have lockers available, travelers may need to fight to get a space.

Jinbu Station - the station closest to many of the stadiums hosting Olympic events - has only 18 lockers, with only four that have enough space to fit a large suitcase. There are a total of 24 at PyeongChang Station and 32 at Gangneung Station.

At Seoul Station, which has more large-sized lockers than any other station on the way to the Olympics events, the fight for a locker is intense.

On Dec. 4, this reporter had large-sized luggage coming from the airport to Seoul Station and was expecting to find a locker to store the bag for a couple of hours, but was unable to find an open spot. All of the big lockers were already taken and many of the foreign visitors were holding onto a few smaller lockers while their travel companions went to search for other options.

There is actually a storage service available close to the airport express train at Seoul Station, but the staff at the information desk at the time said that lockers were the only available option.

A few weeks later, a different worker at the same desk explained that since the lockers and the storage service are run by different entities, they usually only tell travelers about lockers if they come back and inquire for other options after learning that all lockers are filled.

“We have noticed that many struggle to find a locker at stations, so we are now reviewing [the possibility of adding] 32 temporary lockers at Gangneung Station,” said an official with Korail Retail, who manages the partner companies that operate service facilities at train stations run by Korea Railway Corporation.

“The change of lockers at Seoul Station was necessary in case of a terrorist attack, and we are regretful that it was not done earlier.”

The Korea Railway Corporation also admits that there have been some issues regarding customer convenience, and it will work to make the process better.

The express train line to Gangwon province has started English-language announcements alongside Korean ones on the passenger trains Wednesday for both ways, two days before the opening ceremony, after a local news agency pointed out that arrival announcements were only being made in Korean on Tuesday.

The train has pre-recorded announcements in Korean, English, Chinese and Japanese, but attendants started to make live announcements in Korean and English on trains in both directions on Wednesday to prevent anyone from missing their stop.

BY LEE SUN-MIN [summerlee@joongang.co.kr]