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A guide and walkthrough of Seoul's public transportation system


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A Guide and Walkthrough of Public Transportation in Seoul and Incheon, South Korea

Part I: Subway


Seoul's massive subway system is one of the most widely used subway systems in the world. With over 2 billion annual riders as of 2009, it is only behind Tokyo and Moscow in terms of usage, and ahead of New York City. The operation of its 13 lines is split between five different entities. The breakdown is as follows:

- Seoul Metro (Lines 1, 2, 3, 4)

- Seoul Metropolitan Rapid Transit Corporation (Lines 5, 6, 7, 8)

- Metro 9/Veolia Transportation (Line 9)

- Korail (Gyeongui Line, Jungang Line, Bundang Line, Parts of Line 1, 3, 4)

- Incheon Metro (Incheon Subway Line 1)

Key Facts:

Opening Date: August 15th, 1974 ( Line 1)

Annual Passengers: 2.0 billion (2009)

Busiest Line: Line 2 - 1,451,283 passengers per day

Busiest Station: Gangnam Station (Line 2) - 99,727 passengers per day

Oldest Line: Line 1 - Opened August 15, 1974

Newest Line: Line 9 - Opened July 24, 2009

In Numbers:

13 - Number of subway lines in the system

198.3 - Length of Line 1, the longest subway line in the system, and possibly the world.

3 hr 40 min - The amount of time it takes to get from one end of Line 1 to another - by far the longest journey in the system.

755 - Amount of kilometers the entire system covers


Streetcars were the primary mode of public transportation in Seoul until 1968, when the system was shut down to make way for private automobiles. At this stage, a subway wasn't even in the planning stage until 1970, when the issue was brought up by Seoul's then newly-elected mayor, Yang Tek-sik. Despite opposition from the city's economic planners who cited the immense costs of constructing a subway system, Yang was eventually able to gain the approval of (then) president of South Korea, Park Chung-Hee.

As the city entered the 1970s, it faced a population boom as it has never seen before, with its population doubling between 1960 and 1970. The resulting surge in demand for public transportation put pressure on the city government to materialize the plans to build a subway line in the city. Construction finally began in April 1971, and South Korea's first underground railway opened on August 15th, 1974 between Seoul Station and Cheongnyangni (9.5km), directly linked to commuter rail lines to the neighboring cities of Incheon, and further south in Suwon (which would later become combined into Line no. 1).

Soon after the opening of the new subway line, Mayor Yang stepped down, and Koo Ja-Chun became mayor. At that time, three "core" districts of Seoul were under development, and mayor Koo believed that Seoul needed a second subway line that would connect all of those three "core" districts. This idea evolved into Line no. 2, now the longest circular subway line in the world, and also the busiest subway line in the entire country. Construction started on March 9th, 1978, and the first part of the line opened on October 31st, 1980, covering the eastern portion of the circle, with the last part of the circle being completed on May 22nd, 1984

As budgetary pressures built up for the Seoul City Government and Central Government, the construction and operation of new subway lines was done under the direction of corporations. The Seoul Metropolitan Subway Corporation (now known as Seoul Metro). This company would later go on to construct and operate Line 3 and Line 4, both of which cut through the city diagonally. This company also took over the operation of Line 2, as well as the underground parts of Line 1.

Following the construction of the four subway lines, Seoul and its surrounding areas faced even more rapid urbanization and grew to be the second largest metropolitan area in the world, after Tokyo. Four subway lines were simply not enough, and expansion of the system was necessary to solve many of the transportation problems the city was facing at the time. As a result, Lines 3 and 4 were extended further south, and Lines 5, 6, 7 and 8 were created under the direction of a new company, as the Seoul Metropolitan Subway Corporation was heavily criticized for shortfalls in their management. Korail (the rail transport arm of the Korean Government) constructed the Ilsan and Gwacheon lines, which connected directly to Line 3 and 4, respectively, as well as the Bundang line.

The area south of the Han River (the main river in Seoul), called Gangnam, was seeing an immense influx of wealth and commercialization. The area around Gangnam Station was bustling with traffic trying to squeeze by next to tall skyscrapers. Lines 2 and 7, which went through the area, was having a hard time coping with the congestion (the former of which saw up to a 225% congestion rate in some sections, during rush hours). Therefore, Line 9 was built, running between Lines 2 and 7. Line 9 is currently being run by a consortium that ismajority-owned by Veolia Transport, and opened last July.

Today, Seoul's metropolitan subway system is comprised of 13 different subway lines, with a 14th, 15th and 16th coming within the next 5 years. It is, hands down, the fastest, most efficient and most reliable means of traveling within the city, as well as to its outlying areas. Clean trains, stations and plentiful amenities spoil its regular users and impress visitors alike.

Source: Chosun Ilbo archives and Korean Wiki page


Seoul Metro

Line 1

Opened: August 15, 1974

Soyosan-Incheon; Sinchang (a lot of trains are scheduled to terminate at other stops along the way)

Yongsan-Cheonan Express; Seoul Station-Cheonan Express; Yongsan-Dongincheon Express, Seongbuk-Soyosan Express

Length: 198.3km

Stations: 98

Average Daily Ridership: 1,353,485 (2006)

Signalling: ATS

Line 2

Opened: October 31st, 1980-May 22nd, 1984

City Hall-City Hall (Circular line);

Seongsu-Sinseoldong Branch

Sindorim-Kkachisan Branch

Length: 60.2km (Main line: 48.8km; Seongsu Branch: 5.4km; Sindorim Branch: 6km)

Stations: 54 (Main line: 44, Seongsu Branch: 5, Sindorim Branch: 5)

Average daily ridership: 1,451,283 (2006)

Signalling: ATS

Line 3

Opened: July 12th, 1985-February 18th, 2010 (extension)


Length: 57.4km

Stations: 43

Average Daily Ridership: 605,874 (2006)

Signalling: ATC

Line 4

Opened: April 20th, 1985-April 1st, 1994


Length: 70.5km

Stations: 48

Average Daily Ridership: 811,934 (2006)

Signalling: ATC


Line 5

Opened: November 15th, 1995-December 30th, 1996

Banghwa-Sangil Dong; Macheon (splits into two)

Length: 52.3km

Stations: 51

Average Daily Ridership: 590,495 (2006)

Signalling: ATO

Line 6

Opened: August 7th, 2000-March 9th, 2001


Length: 35.1km

Stations: 38

Average Daily Ridership: 296,205 (2006)

Signalling: ATO

Line 7

Opened: October 11th, 1996-August 1st, 2000 (further extension opening in March 2011)


Length: 46.9km

Stations: 42

Average Daily Ridership: 584,338 (2006)

Signalling: ATO

Line 8

Opened: November 23th, 1996-July 2nd, 1999


Length: 17.7km

Stations: 17

Average Daily Ridership: 153,366 (2006)

Signalling: ATO


Line 9

Opened: July 24th, 2009 (further extensions in 2013 and 2015)

Gaehwa-Sinnonhyeon Local; Gimpo Airport-Sinnonhyeon Express

Length: 27km

Stations: 25

Average Daily Ridership: N/A

Signalling: ATO

Incheon Metro

Incheon Metro Line 1

Opened: October 6th, 1999-June 1st, 2009

Gyeyang-International Business District

Length: 29.4km

Stations: 29

Average Daily Ridership: 199,527 (2007O

Signalling: ATO


Jungang Line

Opened: December 16th, 2005-December 23th, 2009


Length: 51.5km

Stations: 26

Average Daily Ridership: 53,205

Signalling: ATS

Bundang Line

Opened: September 1st, 1994-December 24th, 2007 (extensions in 2011, 2012 and 2013)


Length: 27.7km

Stations: 20

Signalling: ATC

Gyeongui Line

Opened: July 1st, 2009

Seoul Station-Munsan

Length: 46.3km

Stations: 20

Signalling: ATS

- Walkthrough -

Subway Stations are relatively easy to find in and around Seoul. They will normally have a large pole with the station name and number next to the entrance.


Typical Subway Station entrance

Once you enter the station, you will find screens that show information about the next trains to arrive at the station. Perhaps this is the time to decide if you want to run or not!


Information Display

But before you can go through the gates and board your train, you should make sure you have enough money in your fare card. If you don't have a fare card, you can buy a single-use card from one of these machines:


Once you complete that process, you will go through one of these gates.


The gate closes like the one on the far left when an attempt is made to go through without a proper fare card.

Here's a video:

If you go through the gate only to realize that you won't have enough money to complete your trip, you don't have to worry, as these machines are at every station:


Here's a video that shows you how to load a fare card or device. Fare payment can be done through fare cards, credit cards with RFID chips, or with special cell phone fobs/ornaments.

Once you go through the gates and head downstairs to the platform level, you will be able to make use of some nifty information.


This map shows you the approximate amount of time it takes to get to a certain station, as well as the best cars to be in to minimize transfer times.

Check the approximate position of the next train, so that you can get an idea of when your train will arrive.


Got some time? Why not have some refreshments?


Here's a video that shows some key features of a typical subway station in Seoul.

Most stations in Seoul feature Platform Screen Doors to prevent people from falling onto the tracks.


Once you board the train, you'll notice maps above each door. There are two kinds: the line map, and the system map.



Digital displays and train announcements made in both Korean and English will ensure that you do not miss your stop. Here's a video:

Once you reach your stop and go through the gates again, you may find it useful to view the neighborhood map, which are available in both printed and digital form.


Here's a video of the interactive touch screen map:

Clear, bilingual signage and numbered exits make things much more convenient:


Visually impaired? These tiles with raised bumps should be able to guide you safely.


Many stations also feature elevators for those in wheelchairs. Stations that do not have them always feature these lifts instead:


Thanks for reading, and I hope it is some help if you ever plan to visit Seoul. My next series will be on the BRT system in Seoul. Stay tuned!

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