The Suwon – Inchon narrow gauge line: Using topographical maps to discover strange things

August 1, 2013 by
Filed under: Korea, Railways, Suwon - Inchon 

SuIn line Illi ilriyeok2After a visit to the Korean topographical services in Suwon I ended up with a lot of maps (both 1:25.000 and 1:50.000) of the whole length of the Suwon to Inchon narrow gauge railway. The office had created 3 map sets for me: 1975, 1987 and 1996, or effectively the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. Besides those historical sets (which can only be bought in Suwon) I also bought the current set of maps. This meant I now had highly detailed maps of the entire line. And then I noticed some strange effects… An example can be found on map NJ-52-9-18. This map is part of the 1:50.000 series and is available from a series of years. In this particular example I am showing the 1974, 1985/1987 and 1987/1996 versions of this map.

SuIn line Illi 1974 large map combo

The whole area in present day Ansan in 1974 (click on the picture for a larger size). During this period Chinese characters were still very common in official publications and maps were no different. The stations on the SuIn line can be seen quite readily on this map, but not every station has been explicitly named. One name, 일리() or Illi station, can only be found on this map and the 1985 version of the map, after the opening of the commuter line this became Handaeap Station (한대앞역), by which name it can still be found on the map today.

SuIn line Illi Station overgrown

As late as 2003 the points (switches) at the station of 일리 could still be found. See this and more pictures at the Naver blog. Notice that these points are on the 1974 map (but not on later maps).

SuIn line Illi 1985 large map combo

By 1985/1987 things had changed a lot. The future city of Ansan was forming rapidly, but the commuter line had not been build yet. The narrow gauge line was still in operation as the sole railway line in the area. On thing in the line had changed however: a large part of the line had been relaid. Between Gojan Station (고잔역) and Illi (future Handaeap) Station the line had been straitened…

SuIn line Illi lriyeok

An old picture, probably from the 1980s. This is according to the source Handaeap Station (한대앞역) (or effectively old Illi Station), showing the points at this station.

SuIn line Illi 1974-only


SuIn line Illi 1985-only

A quick look at a specific point in the map, compairing 1974 to 1985. For some reason the line has been straitened between Gojan and Illi.

SuIn line Illi 1974 + 1985 green line

When the 1974 line is put on top of the 1985 line (1974=green) the difference becomes quite noticeable. Why this was done I do not know (yet), but it seems it was a combination of making way for new buildings, rationalizing the line and perhaps also to make space for the future commuter line.

SuIn line Illi 1974+1985-grey-line

Again the two lines, but this time only the railway tracks, the rest of the maps have been taken out of the picture. The thin grey line is the 1974 alignment. I would not be surprised to discover that the bridge in the 1974 line was reused in the new 1985 alignment.

Which leaves one question: why was that strange bend there anyway? It doesn’t make any sense when looking at the maps, the track doesn’t have to go around anything. But that was not always the case…

SuIn line Illi 1963

This map is from 1963 and it shows the bend in the track going around one of the many estuaries in this area. During the 1960’s South Korea started a lot of land reclaiming schemes, and this was one of the earlier ones. But until that time the line had to go around the bay at this point and that is why there is a strange bend in the line at this point on later maps.

There are other interesting things which can be discovered from these maps, but such things will be discussed in a future article.


Tell me what you're thinking...
and oh, if you want a pic to show with your comment, go get a gravatar!