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Transportation in South Korea


Classes of service

Most routes enjoy frequent service, with trains every 15-60 minutes connecting Seoul to all major South Korean cities. Four classes of train operate: KTX, the Korean high-speed railway system, travels from downtown Seoul to downtown Busan faster than an airplane, makes less stops and yet costs more; the Saemaul-ho (새마을호, "New Village") service, makes the fewest stops and provides the most comfortable seating; Mugunghwa-ho (무궁화호, "Rose of Sharon") service, popular with most Koreans, stops at most stations, and offers a mixture of reserved and unreserved seating; and Commuter (통근 열차) service, the slowest and cheapest of the three, stops at all stops, and offers no reserved seating.


Main article: Subways in South Korea

Seoul Subway underground

Seoul's subway system is the oldest system in the country, with the Seoul Station-Cheongnyangni section of Line 1 opening in 1974. In 2007, eight lines extend 178 miles with 263 substations, transporting 5.6 million passengers a day. Line 9 in Seoul is in building phase 3.

Busan, Daegu, Gwangju, Daejeon and Incheon, South Korea's five next largest cities, all have subway systems. Busan's two lines traverse 55 miles with 93 stops, carrying 706,000 passengers a day; a third line is in phase 3 construction. Daegu's 2 lines extend a total of 35.8 miles with 56 substations. Incheon's subway system covers 15.3 miles with 22 stations. Gwangju's one line runs 7 miles with 12 stops. Korean's choose the subway over automobile because of convenience and avoiding traffic jams.


Streetcars operated in Seoul from the turn of the twentieth century until roughly 1970. The network covered the whole downtown area (Junggu and Jongnogu) as well as surrounding neighbourhoods, including Cheongnyangni in the east, Mapogu in the west, and Noryangjin across the Han River to the south. The network was largely replaced by the subway system whose construction began in the early 1970s. Lines 1 and 2 follow the old streetcar routes along Jongno and Euljiro respectively.


Regional services

Regional bus service serves virtually every town in South Korea regardless of size. They have been classified as Gosok bus ("high speed" express bus) or Shioe bus (pronounced "shee-way": literally, "suburban" intercity bus) with Gosok buses operating over the longer distances and making the fewest (if any) stops en route. Shioe buses typically operate over shorter distances, cover the route slower, and make more stops.

The expansion and rapid improvement of South Korea's long-distance highway system led to the growth of an intercity bus system in the 1980s. In 1988, ten express bus companies operated a fleet of approximately 900 buses connecting all of the major cities of Korea.

Local services

Within cities and towns, two types of city bus operate in general: Jwaseok ("coach") and Doshihyeong or Ipseok ("city type" or "standing"). Both types of bus often serve the same routes, make the same(or less) stops, and operate on similar frequencies, but Jwaseok buses are more expensive, offer comfortable seating; while Doshihyeong buses are cheaper, have fewer and less comfortable seats. Many small city and towns lack Jwaseok buses, their buses officially called Nongeochon Bus ("bus of rural area").

Some cities have their own bus classifying system.

'Traditional' type of busSeoulBusanDaeguJwaseokRapid ("gwangyeok," red)
Trunk ("ganseon," blue)Rapid ("geuphaeng")
Coach ("jwaseok")Rapid ("geuphaeng")Doshihyeong/IpseokTrunk ("ganseon," blue)
Branch ("jiseon," green)Regular("ilban")Circulation("sunhwan")
Branch("jiseon").VillageBranch ("jiseon," green)
Circulation ("sunhwan," yellow)Village ("maeul-bus")N/A

Other services

An extensive network of comfortable, high-speed buses serves from all parts of the country serve Incheon International Airport. The government passed regulations prohibiting many department stores of maintaining their own small network of buses for shoppers. Most churches and daycares still send buses around to pick up their congregants or pupils.


Map of South Korea Expressway

Roads and expressways rapidly expanded during the late 1980s, before and after the 1988 Olympics. Although the total kilometers of roads rapidly increased, the construction failed to keep pace with the flood of cars and trucks on Korean roadways. In 1988, Korea had 51,000 kilometers of roadways, less than half unpaved. Express highways between major cities measured 1,539 kilometers in 1988, compared to 86.8 kilometers in 1967.

With few cars and trucks on the roads in the 1960s, traffic congestion never happened. That changed with the explosive sale of Korean made automobiles in the late 1980s. In 1989, the government started construction on nine new expressways with a combined length of 1,243 kilometers. In 1996, when those expressways and two additional projects completed, South Korea had twenty-one expressways with a combined length of 2,840 kilometers.

Motor vehicle registration in Korea increased dramatically from 527,729 in 1980 to 15,493,681 in 2006. Korean automakers Hyundai, Kia, and Daewoo sought to build their sales through the domestic market while the government restricted the importation of cars from abroad. That, coupled with a dramatic increase in GNP as well as person income, Korean bought cars with abandon. Automobiles increased between 1980 and 2006 at a rate of fourteen percent a year. Passenger cars experienced the largest increase from 249,102 to 11,224,016, more than 45 times. As of Feb. 2006, the Korean government registered 1,113,935 passenger/cargo vehicles, 3,107,729 trucks, and 48,001 special vehicles.5

The Korean government classifies highways in South Korea as freeways (expressways/motorways), national highways, and various classifications below the national level. All freeways charge tolls, and the Korea Highway Corporation operates freeways except Route 130. The freeway network serves all parts of South Korea. The Highway Corporation operates service stops with dining facilities en route.



Mokpogu Light House

Effective cut off from the Asian mainland by North Korea, South Korea has turned toward shipping as the primary way of moving products. South Korea has become one of the world's largest shipbuilding industries, operating an extensive system of ferry services as well.

As one of the world's most advanced IT technology exporters, South Korea operates one of the largest merchant fleets that sail regularly to China, Japan, and the Middle East. Large conglomerates like Samsung operate most fleets while small, private operators run most ferries. Small islands, served by ferries, dot the south and west coasts of the country. Ferries serve the larger offshore Jeju and Ulleung Islands as well. Ferries also operate between South Korea, China, and Japan. Major centers for ferry service include Incheon, Mokpo, Pohang, and Busan.

Ports and Harbours

Hanjin Vienna

Jinhae, Incheon, Gunsan, Masan, Mokpo, Pohang, Busan, Donghae, Ulsan, Yeosu, Jeju serve as Korea's major ports for international shipping and foreign flagged ocean liners. Container ships aboard Korea-flagged ships traverse the world's oceans to South and North America, Europe, Australia, the Middle East, and Africa. In 2003, Korean ports handled approximately 596 tons of cargo, compared with 9 million tons in 1961.

Merchant Marine

In 1999, Korea's Merchant Marine fleet numbered 461 ships (1,000 GRT or over) totaling 5,093,620 GRT/8,100,634 DWT. The types of ships broke down as follows: bulk 98, cargo 149, chemical tanker 39, combination bulk 4, container 53, liquefied gas 13, multi-functional large load carrier 1, passenger 3, petroleum tanker 61, refrigerated cargo 26, roll-on/roll-off 4, specialized tanker 4, vehicle carrier 6. In 1996 the South Korean government upgraded the department of Korea Maritime and Port Administration to the Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries indicated the increased importance placed upon the Merchant Marine enterprise.

Air Travel

Korean Air

Although most Koreans travel between cities by express bus or train, air service between major cities increased, especially among business travelers. Korean Air, founded by the government in 1962 and privately owned since 1969, served as South Korea's sole airline until 1988.

Korean Air serves major domestic routes, offering international service to Japan, the United States, Canada, West Germany, France, Hong Kong, Iraq, Libya, Malaysia, the Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Switzerland, Taiwan, Thailand, and the United Arab Emirates. A second carrier, Asiana Airlines, established in 1988, served three domestic cities. To accommodate the rapidly growing number of air travelers, Incheon International Airport (serving Seoul) opened in 2000.

The two airlines combined offered 1,700 flights a week internationally in 2004, maintaining a combined fleet of over 180 passenger and cargo aircraft. By the beginning of 2004, they served 95 cities, ranking fifth in the world for total cargo carried and twelfth in the world to total number of passengers. Domestically, Korean Air and Asiana serve 14 cities, transporting 21.3 million passengers in 2003.

International airports at Gimpo (serving Seoul), Gimhae (serving Busan), Jeju, Cheongju, and Yangyang. The Korean government has launched the construction of several international/domestic airports.


As mentioned above, two international airlines serve South Korea: Korean Air6 and Asiana Airlines7 Both provide frequent domestic service and operate extensive international networks. Two small domestic airlines, (Hansung Airlines and Jeju Air), offer low cost fares on their routes.


Korea-Incheon International Airport

Two airports serve Seoul: Incheon International Airport8 and Gimpo International Airport (formerly Kimpo International Airport) Incheon hosts most international routes while Gimpo services mainly domestic flights. Busan and Jeju bring the total of Korea's major airports to four. Incheon International Airport opened March 2001 offering state-of-the-art facilities for international passengers. Located between Seoul and Incheon, the airport serves more than half the people living in Korea. Planned and constructed as a major air hub for East Asia, the Korean government plans to establish a Free Trade Zone, International Business District, and Special Economic Zone.

In 1999, Korea had 103 airports small and large, with paved runways from 3,047 meters to under 914 meters. Airports with unpaved runways numbered 36 measuring from 3,047 meters to under 914 meters. Heliports number 203.


  • Incheon International Airport

  • Korea National Railroad Old Seoul Station

  • Old Seoul Station front view

  • Yongsan Station Main Entrance


  1. ↑ (en), Korea Railroad, 2007.
  2. ↑ "Korean trains in historic link-up", BBC News. Retrieved May 17, 2007.
  3. ↑ For former or proposed railway lines, see also the articles on the Gimpo Line, Suin Line, Suryo Line, and Kŭmgang-san Line
  4. ↑ For lines under construction or planned, see Jungbunaeryuk Line and Gangwon Line. No railway service exits on Jeju Island.
  5. ↑ Transportation, Korea.net. Retrieved April 10, 2008.
  6. ↑ Korean Air, Korean Air. Retrieved April 10, 2008.
  7. ↑ Asiana Airlines, Asiana Airlines. Retrieved April 10, 2008.
  8. ↑ (Website), Incheon International Airport Corp. Retrieved April 10, 2008.



  • Kim, Jeffrey H. Strategies for developing an intelligent transportation systems industrial base in South Korea. Thesis (S.M.)-Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Engineering Systems Division, Technology and Policy Program, 2003. OCLC 55087812
  • Kim, Tschangho John, and Sunduck Suh. Advanced transport and spatial systems models: applications to Korea. New York: Springer-Verlag, 1990. ISBN 9780387972770
  • Korea. 1999. Science and technology, transportation: implementing arrangement between the United States of America and the Republic of Korea, signed at Washington June 12, 1995. Washington, DC: Dept. of State. OCLC 43110498
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  • Min, Isabelle, and Unwha Choi. Riding in Seoul: public transportation made easy. Seoul: Seoul Selection, 2003. ISBN 9788995376003


  • Lee, Jang-Ho, and Justin S. Chang. "Effects of high-speed rail service on shares of intercity passenger ridership in South Korea." Transportation Research Record. 1943 (2006): 31-42 OCLC 71520126
  • "TRANSPORTATION - Supply gap looms for South Korea." The Oil and Gas Journal 104(21) (2006): 54. OCLC 103236782

External Links

All links retrieved August 3, 2015.

  • Incheon International Airport.
  • Nation Master.com: South Korea; Transportation.
  • Korea National Statistics Office.