Transportation at the Winter Olympics: nightmare or satisfactory?

Taken Mar. 26, 2016 Photo by Jeon Han


After hours of planning the perfect trip, the last thing you want to do is worry about is how to get there.


At the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, the PyeongChang Organizing Committee (POCOG) offered spectators few ways to travel to events. Despite offering both long-distance trains and short-distance buses, there were mixed opinions regarding the transportation system’s effectiveness and efficiency.


The outside of Jinbu (Odaesan) Station, the main transportation mall with buses traveling towards both the mountain events in Pyeongchang and ice events in Gangneung. Photo by Samantha Wong

The POCOG partnered with the government-run Korea Railroad Corporation (Korail) to build a high-speed rail train between the country’s capital, Seoul, and the eastern coastal city of Gangneung with stops in Pyeongchang and Jinbu. Events were held in two cities: Pyeongchang was the “mountain cluster” that hosted snowboarding events, while Gangneung was the “coastal cluster” that hosted ice skating events. The Pyeongchang Olympic Stadium was in the middle between the mountain and coastal clusters.


Since there was insufficient hotel accommodation in Pyeongchang for all Olympic spectators, most spectators either had to stay in Seoul or find a rental house near Pyeongchang and take public transportation to the games.


Leading up to the Olympics, vague information was given to spectators about travel. The POCOG had assured ticket holders since 2016 that there would be a Korail train that traveled between Seoul and Gangneung. However, Korail provided unclear details regarding train time tables in November 2017. POCOG’s website,, only advised visitors to stop in Jinbu (a station between Pyeongchang and Gangneung) and take a free spectator bus to the venues.


Until January 2018, there was no other information regarding the spectator buses or transportation.


To no surprise, on the day of the opening ceremony, February 9, transportation was difficult to find. It took spectators hours after the opening ceremony ended to get on buses to the train stations, only to find that the trains stopped running.


Spectator buses waiting to load passengers outside of Jinbu (Odaesan) Station.
Photo by Samantha Wong

One spectator, Jessie from Chicago, Illinois, was extremely frustrated. She was upset that the POCOG combined two things that should not be mixed: long-distance trains and short-distance buses. Since the Olympics were during the Korean New Year, a popular time for Koreans to travel, Jessie was especially upset that all the seated train tickets sold out when they were offered to Korean residents first. Foreigners were not given an opportunity to purchase train tickets until afterwards, even though the train line was the only way to get to Pyeongchang.


It was complicated to travel between Gangneung and Pyeongchang without the use of the Korail train. I attempted to ride on the spectator buses to Pyeongchang, but soon found it to be very time consuming. After five buses and three hours, I finally made it from Gangneung Station to Pyeongchang Olympic Plaza.


However, Ronald Skiles, a Santa Rosa, California resident who’s been to 16 Olympics, says the transit system was nice. He was glad to see that the organizing committee were using the trains as well as buses to transport fans. Skiles was also impressed by the Korean residents.


“Korean people are personally bending over backwards to make things happen. The Koreans almost do anything for you. Ordinary people on the street and taxi drivers are incredible, I’ve had taxi drivers get out of their car and check to make sure I’m at the right place. People are just fantastic,” Skiles says.


The inside of a Korail Express Train, a high-speed rail train, on it’s way to Gangneung. Photo by Samantha Wong

Others, though pleased with the transportation, wished directions were made clearer.


“The buses were very efficient and fast at getting to where they were going, yet deciphering which bus went where was difficult,” says Sam Speed, a student at King’s College London. “We took three buses to reach the snowboarding area because we couldn’t find the right one! Getting back from the events though, perfect every time. [There were] enough buses to keep queues down to below two minutes and all of them [were] comfortable.”

Samantha Wong

Leave a Reply