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Monday, February 11, 2019

Gangbuk LRT - Naebu v. Seobu, or PARK v. OH?

Out of the blue, Seoul Metropolitan Government unveiled a brand new, 24.8 km, 15-station subway line joining Mok-dong (Yangcheon-gu) to Cheongnyangni (Dongdaemun-gu) along the Naebu Expressway, that disgraceful overpass scarring countless Seoul neighborhoods*.

Construction would start as early as 2021, for a project that was not even part of the 10 LRT projects announced for 2025 in 2015 ("Seoul subway to gain 89 km by 2025"). Yet, it would connect the dots between two of them: the Mok-dong Line to the West (Sinwol-dong - Mok-dong), and the Myeonmok Line to the East (Cheongnyangni - Sinnae).


As you well know, I'm all for new railway lines, but all this seems a bit hasty, if not suspicious:
  • such projects usually take years and years to study, and 2021 seems a very aggressive target for starting the construction
  • the route doesn't seem optimized for transportation needs, but happens to be on land mostly owned by the city, which may speed up the process
  • as we've seen before, subway projects are highly political in Seoul, and countless railway projects announced before key elections have been dumped afterwards. Yet as soon as a project actually starts, land value immediately jumps
  • the only date given is the start of the project, and 2021 happens to be the year preceding the next presidential elections
  • this Gangbuk LRT / Naebu Line / Naebuseon could cannibalize, and maybe even kill a major project the city and many partners have been working on for a long while: the Seobu Line / Seobuseon, confirmed as a priority by the city not so long ago ("Seobu Line confirmed as Seoul's LRT top priority")
  • Seobuseon was initiated under former mayor OH Se-hoon who, like his successor PARK Won-soon, hasn't given up his presidential ambitions, even if, for the moment, both are lagging behind in the polls**
  • this new project is supposed to be part of Seoul's third urban railways plan, to be announced later (that's a 10-year plan, last one was for 2015-2025, maybe the plan will be revealed in 2020, but this can't wait because of the elections)
  • ...

This may sound a tad cynical but again, announcements related to subways have always been heavily political (whatever the party in charge), because there's so much at stake at the real estate level, and you know how much that counts in Seoul.


Now, let's have a closer look at this new line. We don't have the details yet, particularly the list of stations, or how the Han River or Bugaksan shall be crossed (doubling Seongsan Bridge and the Bugak Tunnel? under the Hangang?), but we can get a more than general idea.

Comparing the new map (above) to the one featuring the previous 10 projects (see ""Seoul LRT Projects Update (Part 1/2)", "Seoul LRT Projects Update (Part 2/2)"), and of course the Naebu Expressway, here's my best guess, going from West to East:

  • 'Gangbuk LRT' seems to start from the potential Ewha Womans University Mokdong Hospital station of the Mok-dong Line (west of Anyangcheon, and Dangsan Station). 
  • it then seems to intersect with Line 9 at Sinmok-dong Station before crossing the river on Seongsan Bridge
  • on the other side of the river, it would certainly meet Line 6 at Mapo-gu Office
  • after that, it probably connects with Gyeongui Jungang Line / Gyeongui Line at Gajwa Station, and Line 3 at Hongje Station, with a couple stations in-between (at least one at the intersection of Jeungga-ro and Hongjecheon, between Yeonhui-dong and Namgajwa-dong, and one at Seodaemun-gu Office)
  • we know that the new line joins the Ui-Sinseol LRT line at Jeongneung Station (Seongbuk-gu), but it would be utterly stupid to spend millions just crossing the mountain like the Naebu Expressway, and leaving Jongno-gu's Pyeongchang-dong valley completely off Seoul's railway grid. I would rather follow the road (Segeomjeong-ro / Pyeongchangmunhwa-ro), and add one station right before Inwangsan (in Hongeun-dong), and a couple in the valley itself, for example***: 
    • one at the feet of Sangmyung University Seoul (Hongji-dong at Jahamun-ro), or at the Sinyeong-dong Samgeori (Segumjung Elementary School at Jinheung-ro)
    • one or two at the intersection with the roads leading uphill (e.g. at Pyeongchang 20-gil)
  • so far, between Mok-dong and Jeongneung, we have listed 9 to 11 stations, which leaves us 4 to 6 until the end. Judging by the map, I could add up to 5 existing stations: on Line 4 (Gireum Station), Line 6 (Wolgok Station, Korea University Station), and Line 1 (Jegi-dong Station, Cheongnyangni).
The main advantages would be to cover two big holes in Seoul's subway map: central Seodaemun-gu, and Pyeongchang-dong, and to add horizontality where it could make sense. But the Seobu Line is far better designed for the needs of Western Seoul, doubling the Naebu Expressway would demand disproportionate investments, and there are probably far smarter horizontals to build.

Of course, the fact that many cars use an urban highway doesn't mean that many citizens would take the same route by subway. Fundamentally, this top-down project doesn't seem fully thought through. I hope Seoul has a more serious and comprehensive plan to not only fix these two holes, but also pave more cleverly the (rail)way for the removal of the city's embarrassing elevated expressways.


Anyway, even if this project fails, and even if Mayor PARK fails in 2022, he still can run another marathon: Seoul has just been confirmed as Pyongyang's sister city in the bid for the 2032 Olympic Games (little suspense there, Busan didn't make much geographical sense):

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* most dramatically in the charming Hongjecheon valley (see "Along Hongjecheon, my way or the highway")
** in a mirror fashion, Prime Minister LEE Nak-yon leads against Seoul Mayor PARK while former PM HWANG Kyo-ahn leads against former Seoul Mayor OH (including in the race for LKP leadership later this month, with a vote expected during Trump-Kim Summit II in Hanoi):
2022 poll (JoongAng Ilbo): liberals LEE Nak-yon, RHYU Si-min, PARK Won-soon, conservatives HWANG Kyo-ahn, OH Se-hoon, HONG Joon-pyo (20190103 -

*** that's what I had in mind in the 'second circular line' project mentioned in my comment dated "August 20, 2013 at 6:00 PM"

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