SEOUL, Oct. 5 (Yonhap) -- President Lee Myung-bak visited the southern port city of Yeosu Wednesday and celebrated the opening of a double-track electric rail line that will enable the high-speed KTX train to run to the host city of next year's World Expo.
The 180 kilometers of railway extended the electric tracks designed for KTX trains from the North Jeolla Province city of Iksan to Yeosu, some 450 kilometers south of Seoul, cutting travel time between Seoul and Yeosu by 103 minutes to three and a half hours, officials said.
The project, launched in 2001, cost 1.8 trillion won (US$1.5 billion).
"I am deeply glad that we were able to complete this project two years earlier than scheduled, as I promised," Lee said during a speech at the opening ceremony. "This project is expected to generate production-inducing effects worth 2 trillion won as well as the effect of creating more than 20,000 jobs."
The new tracks are expected to transport more than 1 million visitors to the expo, he said.
The Yeosu World Expo is scheduled to kick off in May for a 93-day run. The event is expected to draw more than 8 million visitors from more than 100 countries, according to the organizing committee.
Lee said that the expo will serve as a great boon for the port city's development.
"The Yeosu World Expo is an excellent chance to promote the southern coasts as a global leisure and tourist attraction," he said.
Later in the day, Lee visited the expo organizing committee and asked officials to study ways to continue to take advantage of related facilities for tourism after the event.
"Our (per capita) income will rise to $30,000 in a few years, and then to $40,000 after the PyeongChang Olympics," Lee said during a meeting with organizing committee officials and other regional leaders. "Then tourism will receive a boost ... We have to take into consideration how to continue to use facilities after the end of the expo."
Yeosu is situated in South Jeolla Province, traditionally a home turf of the main opposition Democratic Party. In most previous elections, Lee's ruling Grand National Party fared very poorly in the region in contrast to its almost-guaranteed success in the southeastern Gyeongsang provinces.
Lee stressed to Jeolla provincial leaders that he is the president for all South Koreans.
"I have a firm conviction that the president does not represent any particular region," Lee said.