South Korea's Urban Transport Innovations

South Korea’s Urban Transport Innovations

Ilkwon Chae, senior researcher at the Seoul National University and adviser to the Korean government, provides detailed insight into the key strategies and upgrades which have made lead to a sharp increase in ridership and have made Korean public transport the most reliable in the world.

The population of South Korea has risen dramatically over past 50 years. The country now has the third highest population density in the world, and the country still has an annual increase of 0.5%. Private vehicle usage has also risen steeply in the past three decades. There are currently 17.9 million vehicles on the road, with vehicle ownership higher in Korea than Japan, the UK, France or Germany. This has resulted in severe urban transport congestion which, combined with population growth, has necessitated a intense and prolonged investment in public transportation.

The countries first railway was put into operation in 1899, however, much of the countries infrastructure was damaged during the civil war. Between 1953 and 1960 a dedicated railway infrastructure rebuilding program was launched in South Korea. The railways were extensively modernized between 1970 and 1990, and by 2004 the countries first high-speed rail line was put into operation. In 2010 the KTX-Sanchun high speed train was launched, based upon technology developed from within the country.

South Korea has 3,583.7km of track, with 51.8% double track and 68.2% electrified. The total daily ridership is 3,242,000, with 147,000 using the KTX, 208,000 using conventional trains, 2,886,000 using the metropolitan transit system and 103,000 traveling by freight cars.

Korea has eight distinct operators of urban transportation; KORAIL, Seoul Metro, SMRT, Busan Transportation Corporation, Incheon Metro, DTRO, DJET and Gwangju Metro. The standard fare across the eight operators is around one dollar per 10km. The Korean urban transport network is regarded as one of the finest in the world in regards to relaibility and safety. According to UIC 2010 statistics, Korea ranked highest with a 99.7% punctuality rate and had the fewest number of accidents, with 0.066 accidents per million kilometers.

One of the reasons for the increase improved rail service has been the extensive government investment into the electrification of the KORAIL network. This has resulted in a 30-50% increase in overall capacity, since the launch of the program.

SMRT (Seoul Metropolitan Railway Transit) has also launched a number of innovative applications to manage maintenance and reduce disruptions. The STnF (Smart Talk and Flash) system is a smart phone application which allows for more efficient maintenance management. The system has resulted in a 40% reduction in the system failure rate, and has significantly reduced the fault response time.

Prior to the introduction of the SMRT STnF system, the system was managed from an office. Information was input and received in the central offices. This meant that field staff would first note down any faults, then return to the office and compile a report on their computer. The information was then actioned by maintenance staff, one they had accessed the system reports on the computers in the office.

The new STnF system means that data can be input and received anywhere via a mobile device, reducing the time needed to report and ultimately resolve the issue. While this upgrade may not seem as substantial as a wide-scale re-signalling or a rolling stock upgrade, improving maintenance strategy has dramatically reduced delays and improved working efficiency in Korea.

Another key initiative launched in Korea, is KORAIL’s new self-ticketing system. In 2005 KORAIL launched an online system which allowed passengers to purchase and print their ticket at home, saving passengers queuing time and saving time and money for the operator. In 2006 a SMS Ticketing system was launched, which provided even further savings and greater convenience. In 2010 a smart phone ticketing application was introduced, which allowed passengers to check train train times, purchase journeys and even process refunds. The system was awarded the 2011 Public Sector App of the Year award.

The popularity and usage of self-ticketing systems has grown steadily over time. In 2007, following the launch of SMS ticketing, 27.5% of passengers self-issued, however buy 2011 this has risen dramatically to around half of all riders. The number continues to grow, and the smart phone application has already been downloaded over 5 million times.

The final key development in the countries transport network to explore, is the development of driverless CBTC trains on the DX Line. The first phase of the project to upgrade to a driverless system was completed in 2011, with a total cost of 1,231 billion. The opening stretch was of 18.472 km of track between Gangnam and Jeongja.

The second phase will cover 12.78km from Jeongja and Gwanggyo, with a cost of 1,0257 billion. Work on this section of the project was initiated in February 2011 and is expected to be completed by January 2011. Details of phase 3 has been tentatively agreed, with a 7.75km stretch from Yongsan to Gangnam proposed to be completed by 2018. The final fourth phase between Gwanggyo and Homaeshil has also been announced, with the project expected to begin in 2014 and to be completed around 2020.

Phase one will include 6 stations and operates from 5.30 am to 1am the following morning. The maximum speed will be 90km/h, with the operational speed at around 62 km/h. The total hourney time from Jeongja to Gangman is 16 minutes, which is significantly faster than available alternatives (48 minutes on another line or 52 minutes by bus). The system has a 5 minute headway at peak time and an 8 minute off-peak headway.

The operation control center features an RF-CBTC (Radio Frequency-Communication Based Train Control) and an MBS (Moving Block System), supporting bi-directional radio data communication. This is used for control and monitoring train operation status, controlling train schedules, setting routes, ensuring automatic departure and stop, train door opening, platform and cabin safety system and other system interfaces.

The trains feature a Vehicle On-Board Computer (VOBC) and a Train Control Monitoring System (TCMS). Platforms are also fitted with screen doors to prevent passengers falling from the platform ontoo the track.

Investment in telecommunications upgrades for public transport systems provides a number of key benefits; greater system capacity, improved customer satisfaction, reduced maintainence costs, greater safety levels and improved train punctuality. Telecoms upgrades and innovative technology upgrades are vitally important, to maximize the efficiency and capacity of existing infrastructure.