By Duncan Mackay

Pyeongchang general_viewJanuary 4 - Controversy today surrounded plans to connect Pyeongchang to Seoul via a multi-billion dollar high speed rail link in time for the 2018 Winter Olympics and Paralympics, a key promise of the South Korean city's successful bid.

The media in South Korea this morning reported that the Government had scrapped plans to build the railway, which it had been claimed will cut travel times from Incheon Airport to Pyeongchang, which is in Gangwon Province, to only 68 minutes.

One of the main criticisms that Pyeongchang's bid faced was its relative isolation, allegedly making it unattractive to International Olympic Committee (IOC) members.

The Ministry of Land, Transport and Maritime Affairs reportedly said in a statement that it never planned to build the railway but instead proposed to build new express railroads connecting Gangwon Province city Wonju and Gangneung via Pyeongchang.

Newspapers also quoted Sohn Chang-hwan, the director of design and planning venues for the Pyeongchang Organising Committee, saying "we never said we would build a bullet-train track from Incheon to Pyeongchang, but the media did."

He added: "The only proposed plan is connecting Wonju and Gangneung with a new express railroad.

"The 68 minute proposal was the best possible time that could be.

"We said that number to persuade the IOC members."

Pyeongchang rail_link_map
The claims had the potential to prove hugely embarrassing to Pyeongchang 2018.

A few hours later officials there rushed out a press release, they claimed clarifying the situation and blaming "inaccurate" media reports.

"On 30th December 2011, the National Assembly approved the budget for the organisation of the Games," Pyeongchang 2018 said in an unattributed statement.

"The budget includes KRW 25.4 billion Won for the designs of six new venues and KRW 210 billion Won for the fulfillment of the bid promise to build high-speed rail tracks linking Wonju and the cities of Pyeongchang and Gangneung, where the snow and ice venues will be located respectively.

"This announcement puts to rest the recent speculations of the local media, which had reported inaccurately that the Government was not supporting the new high-speed railway which they thought would cover the distance between Incheon and Gangneung.

"In fact, the Organising Committee remains on course to achieve its bid targets."

Pyeongchang 2018_rail_link
But the statement, perhaps tellingly, failed to repeat the 68 minute figure.

"During Games time, the existing tracks linking the Incheon International Airport, Yongsan [within Seoul], Deokso and Wonju would be enhanced with a new operating system to ensure the shortest possible travel time," it said.

"The proposed construction of the new 113km high-speed track between Wonju and Gangneung, which will enable travelling speeds of up to 250km per hour, will guarantee the smooth delivery of participants."

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