This is a guest post by regular commenter and current resident of Korea Konrad Kurta.
There’s been a bit of talk on this blog about the plausibility of replacing the Northern Busway with Vancouver-style ‘light metro’, which I will refer to as ART (Advanced Rapid Transit) for the purposes of this post.
The topic itself has been talked about in some depth here and here, but basically, ART is a type of driverless electric train that can run as single or multiple cars, carrying lots of passengers at short intervals. This idea of running ART to the North Shore intrigued me, so to add to the conversation I figured I should experience first-hand a modern ART system. How can I do that from New Zealand?
I can’t, which is OK because I live in South Korea. Near the city of Yongin there is a new ART system that links Korea’s biggest amusement park, Everland, to the Seoul Metro network about 18kms away. The ‘Everline’ is brand-spanking new, having only opened at the beginning of the month. On Saturday I went to check it out.
The Everland stop is where the line terminates and is paradoxically where we begin our journey. Arriving at the station, the first thing you realize is that Everland is massive. I can’t even see it from the station, but there are easily two hundred buses in the enormous parking lot. No wonder they needed a rail line. The second thing you notice is that the ART cars themselves are fairly unremarkable; they’re quaint, almost. On this line they run as individual units (they can be coupled together in groups of up to six) and look like a metro train’s smaller, stylish cousin. I’m not certain, but I think these are the ‘Mark III’ trains – Bombadier’s latest incarnation of the ART unit [Editors note: We’ve established these are actually the MkII model].
The station at Everland is modern and functional, but surprisingly sparse compared to the ridiculous size of Seoul’s metro stations and their accompanying mega-malls and underground shopping centers. That surprises me seeing as it is meant to process thirty thousand people an hour – where are the convenience stores and little fashion outlets selling cheap ladies shoes?
Getting though the station and onto the train involves the same process as everywhere else in South Korea – I just swipe my bank card and walk on. Bus fares, metro fares and everything I buy in SK requires just one card regardless of what city I’m in. Just a pointless brag to all of you waiting for AT’s integrated ticketing.
When you lean over the edge and examine it, the ART track just looks like any other rail track, save the third rail running down the middle (caution: stand behind the yellow line at stations or you’ll be told off by Scolding Loudspeaker Guy). My partner and I are the only ones to get on at this station, perhaps not surprisingly seeing as we’re here at 11am and everyone is arriving rather than leaving Everland.
It does give us an opportunity to take some pictures though, and we’re surprised at how big the inside of the train is – comfortably bigger than your average bus.
The ride itself is very smooth, save a few jerky moments while accelerating to top speed – any frequent metro riders would find this familiar. More noticeable than these jerky moments is the train’s performance up hills and around corners, especially compared to typical metro trains. Given there’s no driver and you can look out the front of the carriage, you get to see first hand the track banking around surprisingly sharp corners, something the train doesn’t seem to mind as it enthusiastically purrs around curves and up inclines. Indeed, it doesn’t seem to slow down much at all around corners courtesy of the banked tracks, which makes it a much more interesting train ride than most I’ve been on.
While the ride itself is moderately exciting, the stations we stop at aren’t. Not that they’re ugly, there’s just not a lot to them. They are quite clearly designed for one basic purpose: get people on, and get people off (giggle). Trains run at six minute frequencies, yet there’s not a lot of ‘extra stuff’ – there’s ticketing and bathrooms below the platforms, escalators and stairs up to the platforms and liberally applied exits to the surrounding area. That seems to be it.
A few people start to board which gives us time to take some ‘people on the train’ shots, and we settle into what quickly becomes a standard train ride. We start talking to a young local guy, take a few more photos and are soon pulling up to the last station. It’s similar to the others; stylish enough and devoid of bells and whistles. The transfer to the metro line is still under construction so we have to walk around to the current metro entrance. Before we know it we’re on the metro heading to Seoul. Was that really eighteen kilometers of ART?
My overall impression about ART after this is a very positive one. Two things in particular stick with me: the speed at which you go from entering the station to getting on the train (and vice versa), and the sheer nimbleness of the system as a whole. If I had to sum it up in two words, those two words would be ‘no bullshit’. This is not a system geared for people waiting around, it’s a system designed to move people without letting them loiter.
Having had some time to think about it, riding the Everline went a long way to convincing me that ART would be a great way of getting people across the Waitemata from the North Shore. It was fast and efficient, and perhaps most importantly it can move lots of people without requiring expensive supporting infrastructure. ART to the Shore? I think yes.