South Korea is a presidential representative democratic republic. The president serves five-year terms and the 300 members of the National Assembly serve four-year terms. It is a civil law country.
The central government sets guidelines and laws stipulating planning, funding, technology, and construction rules for urban railway projects, and also provides funding for urban railways and bus rapid transit. The national Ministry for Land, Infrastructure and Transport (Molit) approves subnational master plans for provinces and metropolitan cities, and grants permits for construction activities. Molit also establishes design requirements, conducts research, and manages privately funded projects.
The South Korean government sponsors several science and technology research institutes, including the Korea Transport Institute (KOTI) and the Korea Railroad Research Institute (KRRI). KOTI and KRRI conduct research on transportation systems, safety, standards, policy, and technology. While both have similar outputs, the research emphasis at KRRI focuses on railways, including standardization of urban rail rolling stock and infrastructure, with the goal of reducing construction and operating costs.
The national government funds and operates the Korean Railroad Corporation (Korail), a public corporation that operates seven heavy rail lines in the Seoul region and one line in Busan. Korail also operates intercity passenger rail throughout the country. Korea National Railway (KNR), another public corporation owned by the national government, is responsible for railway construction and track maintenance on Korail infrastructure.
South Korea has 17 first-tier subnational administrative divisions, including eight metropolitan cities (Seoul being among them) and nine provinces. These are further divided into cities, districts, and towns. The first-tier administrative regions play a large role in funding and planning rail transit development, along with administering other modes of transportation. Importantly, they assemble 10-year plans to guide urban railway development. These documents must be approved by the central government.
Metropolitan and provincial governments build, own, operate, and maintain their own urban rail transit systems through transit agencies. Ownership and operation are most complicated for the Seoul Metropolitan Subway, a system that consists of 23 heavy rail, light rail, and commuter rail lines in and around the Seoul Metropolitan Area. Seoul Metro, a corporation owned by the Seoul Metropolitan Government (SMG), is the primary owner and operator of urban rail transit in the Seoul region. Seoul Metro is the sole owner and operator of lines 2, 5, 6, 7, and 8. Seoul Metro jointly operates lines 1, 3, and 4 with Korail. Line 9 and the Busan-Gimhae Light Rail are public-private partnerships (P3) designed, financed, built, and operated by private companies under the ownership of Seoul Metro. For the lines that are jointly operated with Korail, the government of South Korea and the SMG share ownership.