Incheon International Airport will become home to Korea’s first commercial urban maglev train line once completed in July this year but will not officially begin operating until October 2013. The trial line is only 6.1 kilometers long and travels from Incheon’s Transport Center to the Yongyoo-Muui Tourist Complex which is also under development.
The tourist complex is another large scale project being carried out by the Incheon Free Economic Zone Authority and it is expected to bring an assortment of business, tourism and recreation facilities within close proximity of the airport. (The Yongyoo-Muui project will be covered in more detail in a future post.) Construction on the line began in 2010 after Incheon was chosen over the three other cities which made it the to final selection stage — Daejeon, Daegu and Gwangju. Incheon was chosen for several reasons including its location next to the airport and the upcoming 2014 Asian Games which will also be held in Incheon.
The elevated line will have six stations; Incheon Airport Transport Centre, Terminal 2 (Planned), International Business District 1, International Business District 2, Waterpark Entrance and finally Yongyoo Station (용유역). Two more stages of construction are planned for the line; stage two is a 9.7km extension that continues from Yongyoo Station, past the planned Marine World and up to Dragon City. Though this stage was originally scheduled to be completed in time for the Asian Games, setbacks in the development of neighboring projects are still causing delays. The final stage will be significantly longer, a 37.4km extension that continues around the outer rim of the island and loop back to the airport.
Each train will be able to travel at a top speed of 110 km/h and carry up to 230 persons. Time between trains will be 7.2mins, 15mins or 20mins depending on the time of day. Incheon International Airport Authority will operate the unmanned system using their experience from the IAT, the airports unmanned transport system which travels underground between terminals. The airport has been trying to promote a green image and it hopes that the maglev line will help highlight this.
Maglev is short for magnetic levitation; vehicles are propelled using the basic principles of magnets instead of wheels and engines which are used in standard rail. When in motion, the carriages are lifted above the track reducing both noise and vibrations. Government funded development of maglev technology started in the late 80s and the Incheon line is the first trial line in the Center for Urban Maglev Program which was established in 2006. Though maglev trains are sometimes thought of as purely high speed, the program has focused on slower speed maglev technology suitable for urban environments and general public transport. For those interested in the really technical details for this particular system including magnetism and signaling, you can read this document. Previously, a short 1km urban maglev line was showcased at the Daejeon World Expo in July 1993 which began operating again in 2008.
Maglev line in Daejeon.
The Incheon Urban Maglev will not only act as a way of travelling across the island but will also promote South Korea’s development in maglev technologies to other countries that have interest in building similar systems. Commercially, whether the system is well used will depend on tourists’ willingness to leave the airport and the success of the many projects currently under construction in the area, particularly after the Asian Games have concluded. You can view the position of the first six stations on the Google map below.