Subways exist in five major cities in Korea; Seoul (and connecting cities), Busan, Daegu, Daejeon, and Gwangju. As of this publishing, 22 lines exist in Seoul and another is scheduled to open seven months later. Busan has six lines, Daegu has three, and Daejeon and Gwangju both have one line each. Schedules will depend on each line and first and last trains can differ depending on the day of the week. Unlike the metro system in Japan, there aren’t many express lines. In Seoul, Lines 1 and Bundang are express only at certain sections. Line 9 does have an express option throughout their line. Single use tickets, special tourist tickets, and rechargeable transit cards are available.
Korea has had a number of different kinds of trains in its history. Currently, most trains are Mugunghwa, ITX-Saemaeul, KTX, or SRT but some exceptions exist. All trains up until SRT have been run by KORAIL. SRT was introduced to encourage price competition and yet shares a majority of track with KORAIL. Both SRT and KTX are bullet trains allowing travel from Seoul to Busan in about two and one-half hours at speeds up to 300 km per hour. ITX-Saemaeul is the reborn Saemaeul class, is next fastest after KTX and SRT, and travels the Seoul to Busan route in four hours. Named after the national flower of Korea, Mugunghwa are the slowest trains in wide service. Mugunghwa trains are still widely used because they make many stops not serviced by the faster trains.
KORAIL tickets can be purchased by the Korail Talk app, in person at a train station ticket machine or at a counter, or online at www.letskorail.com (K, E, J, C). Their call center has English service at 1599-7777. SRT tickets can be purchased on their SRT app, online at a rail station, or online but only in Korean at http://etk.srail.co.kr
Once you have purchased your ticket, confirm the information on it is correct. Tickets will state the train number, the train carriage, and the seat number or if it is a standing ticket. Stations will display the platform number and will begin to blink when the time gets close.
Tickets can be returned before the departure time stated on the ticket but the closer the departure time, the higher the fee. If the train has already departed, you can return the ticket in person at a station. If the train has arrived at its destination, you will be unable to return the ticket.
The content on this page has been taken from the 2019 edition of Living in Korea. The book was created in support of our international researchers and has been completely rewritten. The book is available as a 6 MB download here and in paperback form in IBS Centers.