Posted by: Matt Kelley | 5 August 2009

Video: Seoul Metro’s New Golden Line 9

One of the best things about Seoul is its efficient and inexpensive public transit system. It’s a mind-boggling number, but the metro rail system facilitated over two billion passenger rides in 2008. Seoul’s network is the world’s third most heavily used, behind only Tokyo and Moscow.

Today, the massive system consists of 15 lines, with two more to open in the next year. On June 24, 2009, the inaugural journey of Metro Line 9 began at 7:00 am from Gaewha Station (계화역) in western Seoul for its 25.5-kilometer journey to Sinnonhyeon Station (신논현역), in southern Seoul.

20090805_line9Seoul Metro’s new Golden Line 9 is the newest addition to the city’s massive underground transportation infrastructure (image Courtesy of Seoul Metro Line 9 Corporation).

Line 9, which is also called the Gold Line, broke ground in 2002. After several delays, everything seems to have gone off without a hitch. For a standard base rate of 900 won, or less than 75 cents, I left the verdant agricultural area just west of Gimpo International Airport.

20090805_yellowstrapBright yellow hand straps alternate heights for kids and adults.

The new trains offer several improvements. The seats are wider and sport fabric to prevent your backside from sliding. The bright yellow hand straps alternate heights for kids. The doors between the four carriages are also gone, creating a roomier feel, and allowing easier access for disabled passengers. The elaborate digital menu displays cycle through a lot of information, including the current and upcoming stations, which side to exit, and even how to exit into the neighborhood. All signage is in both Korean and English.

20090805_seoulsubwayThe Seoul Metropolitan Rail System consists of 15 lines, and is the world’s third most-used urban rail network (click here for larger).

Let’s talk about destinations. The obvious first major stop is Gimpo Airport. But from there the line makes 23 additional stops. Among them, Seonyudo Station (선유도역), is a short walk from the urban renewal island park of the same name that was covered on a previous show. Two stops later is the National Assembly Station (국회의사당) on Yeouido Island. Take exit #2 and you’re staring at South Korea’s Parliament building.

20090805_line9routeSeoul Metro Line 9 consists of 25 stations spread over 25.5 kilometers along the south bank of the Han River.

After another three stations you’ll arrive at Noryangjin, home of the famous fresh fish market, and a convenient transfer to Line 1. Stay on board and you’ll arrive at the major transportation hub, the Express Bus Terminal. As mentioned in a previous show, it’s also home to the huge Gangnam Underground Shopping Arcade. And, finally, just two stops later is Sinnonhyeon, the terminal station, which empties out beside the Ritz Carlton Seoul.

20090805_entranceIn lieu of turn styles, Line 9’s entry and exit points feature retractable barriers. It’s one of several improvements for mobility-impaired riders.

Unlike any other line, Line 9 is triple-tracked, which allows for geuphaeng (급행) or express service between stations. Express trains run at 47 kilometers per hour, that’s 14 faster than the local tracks. This means a 20-minute savings on trips from the Airport into Gangnam.

20090805_hiseoulbench“Hi Seoul!” has been the city’s official branding slogan for years.

The Gold Line’s gleaming silver stations are sophisticated, metallic and spare, maybe even a little too much so. But I liked the mesh benches printed with the city’s friendly, somewhat nonsensical “Hi Seoul!” slogan, as well as vending machines that are designed to blend in.

20090805_gaewhastationAn artist’s rendering of Gaewha Station, one of Line 9’s two terminal stations (Courtesy of Seoul Metro Line 9 Corporation).

Furthermore, all stations feature powder rooms and family-friendly diaper changing rooms and children’s toilets. There are also seven performance halls, and a number of galleries, exhibition spaces, Internet cafés and 113 convenience stores.

20090805_vicinitymapsGreat new vicinity maps are posted near station exits. The “bird’s-eye” satellite images are a new, convenient feature.

But as a map dork, my favorite feature is the neighborhood maps located near the exits. Positioned above attractive gray and white vicinity maps are detailed birds-eye satellite images, which really help to determine which exit to use to get where you want to go.

20090325_arexrouteThe Airport Express Line connects Incheon International Airport with Gimpo International Airport. It connects with Line 9 and Line 5 at Gimpo.

For airport travelers who prefer riding the rails to a bus, take the Airport Express line from Incheon International Airport to the mostly domestic, Gimpo Airport. From there, transfer to Line 5 for destinations generally north of the river, and Line 9 for southern spots.

Seoul’s new Gold Line is headed by a multinational French company, making it the first privately-run subway in Korea. If all goes as planned, 12 more stations will extend eastward to COEX, the Sports Complex, Jamsil and Olympic Park in two phases, to be completed by 2016.

More Information:
Metro Line 9 Corporation (Official Site – in Korean)

Getting There:
→ Seoul Metro Line 9 starts at Gaewha Station in western Seoul and terminates at Shinnonhyeon Station in southern Seoul. The Line can be accessed via lines 1-5, 7, and the AREX Airport Express Line. The base fare is 900 won.

(A version of this text aired on KBS World Radio on July 29, 2009.)


  1. Dear Matt,

    The Korean subway is very impressive but i wish my legs were stronger to move from one platform to another! And those steep steps! I understand how Seoulites get their daily workout!

    Am learning how to blog and your blog on discovering Korea is my personal benchmark. Could you please visit my blog and give me your constructive criticisms? You might also want to check out the entry titled ” What’s Your K.Q. (Korea Quotient) ? ”

  2. Hi Ajumma,
    Are you really a Korean ajumma blogger? I love the thought. Anyhow, you’re right about the steps. Although the new lines are much better about accessibility, a lot of the older lines and stations must be a nightmare for people with limited mobility. Since my legs still work and to counteract the many hours spent in front of my computer, I’ve been bypassing the escalators for the columns of 100+ stairs. The burn!

    Anyhow, thanks for your comment and I’ll check out your blog again (been there before) and let you know what I think. I hope some other Discovering Korea readers will do the same. Best, Matt

  3. Hi Matt,
    I’m a novice blogger; an ajumma ( in terms of age, mentality and how my aching body feels; not marital status) but no, I’m not Korean! And I’m not in Korea now. I’ve just visited it a number of times.

    I really appreciate the time you take to reply to all your readers when we write in and I would really be grateful if you could give me any tips on how to improve the blog.

    My big problem at the moment is marketing and creating publicity. I only have one person commenting so far. SOB! and DEEP SIGH!

    So much for “if you build it, they will come!”
    ( Did you ever see Kevin Costner’s Field of Dreams?” )

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