Am I in New York? Am I about to board the Paris Metro? Perhaps I am in Metropolitan Tokyo waiting for a chikatetsu? – one thing I can say is that we’re not in Sydney!…I am in Seoul, South Korea home to the worlds largest subway system in terms of station and passengers.
With 19 lines having 615 stations, 526 of them are within the Seoul Metropolitan area where around 25 million people live. Many of the lines connect and transferring via the multi-level stations is relatively easy with signs in Korean and English. Each one way trip, up to 10 kilometres, costs KRW1,050 / AUD1.09 and KRW100 / AUD0.10 for 5 kilometre increments there after and you can transfer between most lines, within 30 minutes for that one fare. Fares are paid for using the T-Money smart card that can be pre-loaded at all stations.
Situated throughout each station are several of these cabinets containing emergency equipment, oxygen tanks and gas masks. The equipment is no doubt due to the closeness of the border with the North in the event of an attack on on the subway from underground or from above where I guess the subway would be used as shelter.
Monitors at the station indicate the next trains arrival and depending on the time of day and line, these run up to 2 minutes apart and are rarely delayed. There is a funky bit of trumpet music that plays as a train approaches – sounds like a revved up version of the childrens nursery rhyme “A hunting we will go, a hunting we will go, high-ho the derio a hunting we will go”. A pre-recorded message also announces the trains arrival in Korean and English detailing the next station and indicating what station to transfer at for other lines.
Passengers disembark and board in an orderly manner and the elderly are offered a seat on board. Most of the major city staions have glass screen doors along the length of the platform. The spaciousness of the carriages mean people can get on and off relatively quickly also helping keep the system running on time. Each carriage is fitted with digital TV screens, air conditioning for summer and seats that automatically heat during the cold Seoul winters.
Although it took one or two trips to work out how to navigate the expansive and uber-modern system, it was a wonderfully quick, easy and inexpensive way to get around this huge city.
Sydney trains could learn a lot by spending a few days on this subway system!