The term 지옥철 or “hell train” is a play on the Korean word for subway and has been tossed around the media over the past month in relation to the opening of Seoul’s Line 9 (Metro 9) extension later this month on 28 March. I’ll get to this in a minute, but first a bit about the extension in case you’re not up to speed.
The Line 9 Extension
The extension is 4.5km long and has five new stations that stretch across Gangnam from the current terminus at Sinnonhyeon Station (신논현역). The new stations are Oenju(언주), Seonjeongneung(선정릉), Samseungjungang (삼성중앙), Boeunsa (보은사) and Sports Complex (종합운동장). Two new transfer points are with the Bundang Line at Seonjeongneung and Line 2 at Sports Complex.
The extension provides another vital line into the busy Gangnam area where a huge number of Seoul residents travel to work everyday. Moreover, it gives residents in the south east of Seoul even easier access to Line 9’s express train to Gimpo Airport. Let’s also not forget the location of the last station Sports Complex is right next to Seoul’s most popular baseball stadium and will likely take some of the pressure off a packed Line 2 for fans in the summer.
Of course this extension opens up more access for commuters and the number of passengers using Line 9 services on an average day is expected to increase by 610,000.
More Subway Cars Coming
As anyone who has taken Line 9 will know, there are currently only four cars for each train meaning that services can get extremely crowded, especially in a city where 8-10 cars are standard for many lines. This is further exacerbated by how often trains come which is every 5-5.5 minutes during peak times and 6-7 minutes normally.
On 31 January, Line 9 timetables were changed from one express train for every two all-stop trains to one express train for every all-stop train as trial operations on the new extension began. While this means that express trains now actually come more often, all-stop trains come less often and overall services have decreased by 60 a day. To make matters worse, according to this article from The Kyunghyang Shinmun, passengers using Line 9 services have been increasing on average by 2,700 people a day.
Metro 9 says that 20 extra more subway cars will be added next year in September with 50 more cars on order to meet passenger demand, but these won’t be ready until a year and a half later in 2017. The possibility of another 70 cars is also being investigated for the opening of stage 3.
This combined with media hype over the reported chaos that will ensue once the extension opens has led Metro 9 to look for ways to help ease the pressure. One of these is a morning/evening bus service covering different areas of Line 9’s route. The company is also currently considering discounting fares by 20-30% for early morning commuters that travel between the first morning car and 6:30am.
So why wasn’t this increase in demand estimated in the first place? The Kyunghyang Shinmun article goes on to explain that originally it was estimated that 294 cars in total would be needed for the completed Line 9 including both extensions but this was reduced to 198 cars following a preliminary feasibility investigation by the Ministry of Strategy and Finance.
In any case a new connection is better than any connection, and if people find the line too busy or crowded to use then I imagine they’ll travel to work the way they travelled before. After all, other lines aren’t exactly empty either!
Do you use Line 9 regularly? How has your commute changed since the timetable changed? Let us know below!