Narrow gauge in Korea: the Inchon – Suwon – Yeoju line

Korean narrow gauge

While reading an excellent book about the situation in Korea between 1945 and 1950 (“The War for Korea, 1945-1950: A House Burning” by Allan Millett”) I noticed on one of the maps that there were at that time in Korea several narrow gauge railway lines. On the Ongjin peninsula, to the west of Haeju, there used to be several narrow gauge lines, built in the Japanese colonial period. With the current economical situation in North Korea it is unlikely that trains are still running on these lines, but they are certainly not narrow gauge anymore, having been regauged a long time ago. According to the book “Communist logistics in the Korean War” by Charles Shrader in 1950 there were 523 miles of narrow gauge in the whole of Korea. Luckily this book can be found at Google books, see here for the relevant pages.

Engine 7 of the Suwon to Inchon narrow gauge railway.
Engine 7 of the Suwon to Inchon narrow gauge railway, now located next to the Sorae (소래) museum, in 2013

South Korea had its share of narrow gauge lines. The most notable of these was the Inchon to Yeoju line, a line which as a narrow gauge line was only closed in 1995, with earlier closures on parts of the line. The main center of the line was at Suwon, a town to the south of Seoul, and effectively the line ran mainly from west (Inchon) to east (Yeoju). The western part was named the [W: Suin Line], while the eastern part was named [W: Suryeo Line], and the latter was abandoned in May 1973, while the former was finally abandoned in 1995, but has now been rebuild as a standard gauge line.

Besides some information on Wikipedia, which is rather short in lengt at this moment, information can be found on this line on the internet here, here and here.

I have put up several of the Korea maps as dynamic maps. You can find the narrow gauge line from Inchon to Yeoju quite easily on these maps. The maps can be found here:
– The western part and part of the eastern line can be found on this map
– The rest of the network to the east can be found here
If you know how to navigate through Google Earth/Maps or NASA World Wind you know how to navigate through these maps. (I will put up the rest of Korean soon and will even try to create one large map set, but until then I have these two plus the Jeju map online.)

Some examples:

The western end of the line, mostly still in use in by 1995
The western end of the line, mostly still in use in by 1995
The eastern end of the line, in more detail (it is on the second map)
The eastern end of the line, in more detail (it is on the second map)

3 thoughts on “Narrow gauge in Korea: the Inchon – Suwon – Yeoju line

  1. While a teacher at Seoul Foreign School, I took my students on this railway in the mid 1970s. There was steam then and the kids got to push the engine on the turntable in Inchon for the return trip to Suwon. While this railroad was built by the Japanese to exploit Korea’s resources, it does run on beautiful shoreline and I am glad that it is still going even if it is now standard gauge and there is no steam.

  2. This is great information. I am going to check out the books referenced. I first came to Korea in 1997 and my (older) guidebook referenced the Suwon-Incheon narrow gauge line you wrote about. When I went to Suwon to ride it, they told me it had stopped operating a couple of years earlier, so I did not get to experience it. I was pretty disappointed. Since then I have developed an interest in older Korean locomotives. You can check out what I have on my blog: . Admittedly it is not much, but I have collected quite a few links in my research. Also, I am building a model railroad, modeling Korean railways in the 1970’s. I am still in Korea all these years later. Another book if you are interested in Korean railroads is “The Gloved Hand” by M.C. Wikman. It has a couple of chapters on experiences of an American working with Korean locomotives. Thanks for sharing the interesting information!

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