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Don's Rail Photos

Korean National Railways

Narrow Gauge Postlude

When our Korean narrow gauge story went out on the net, we got a reply from John Raby. John is living in Japan and found an English language Korean paper from 1995. He sent us a copy of this article. We scanned it, ocr'd it, and then put it together without permission (I hope they don't mind). A heartfelt comupsimnida to John and to the Korean paper.

Suwon Inchon Narrow-gauge train destined to disappear

By Hwang Seok-joo

"Its like mv bodv. I have spent 25 years of my life with this train. Even when I close my eyes, I can vividly recall the whole line of 46 . 3 km. But when I think of not being able to see it again forever, my heart breaks and I feel heavy in the chest!"

Almost everybody has faint recollections of trains which conjure up a basic instinct; a desire to travel somewhere. To a different world. This can be considered a symptom of a man's search for home in his mind due to his unavoidable, basic loneliness. So the train is perhaps a modern means for a man to reach his roots.

So it was that engineer Park Soo-kwang heaved a sigh with the sorrowful expectatation of losing his 25-year-long friend, a mini train which is 14.75m long, 3.2m high, 2.15m wide and capable of carrying 90 passengers per carriage.

We cannot easily imagine that small diesel engines built 29 years ago are still being used in this high-tech era.

In the dimlv lit interior, a small plate with the data "65. 12. 9165 Inchon Back Shop" on the wall of the carriage, can be seen. That means this train was built in December 1965 in Inchon and its serial production number is 9165.

The interior and exterior sport a heavy coat of discolored ivory and blue, giving the train feelings of both shabbiness and compassion at the same time.

But alas! This train running through an undeveloped region along the west coast of Korea is on the verge of retreating from the scene under the unavoidable tide of modernizing transportation.

The news of the train's destiny fills a lot of people with sorrow because it is the last one in Korea or perhaps in the world, running on a single-track narrow-gauge railway, 76.2 cm wide. Park said there might be a 1m-wide railroad in Japan, but not like this one.

In a sense, the train is an antique of our times, which makes Korean people invoke the hard days of the 1930s to 1960s. It's not merely a train but a heritage of Korean history.

Its story dates back to the Japanese colonial years.

In September 1937, Choson Kyoung-dong Railroad Co., a private Japanese firm, constructed two narrow-gauge lines linking Suwon-Inchon and Suwon-Yeoju. These two lines, originally plied by steam locomotives, were designed to connect with the Seoul-Pusan line in Suwon. 'I'hey were designed to transport local products such as salt and vegetables from Sorac and Namdoiig, and rice from Ycoju to Japan. So these trains were a means of exploitation by Japan rather than a mode of passenger transportation.

Especiailv during the Sino-Japanese War starting in 1937, Yeoju rice, boasting the highest quality in Korea, was transported by this mini train to Suwon and eventually to Manchuria for Japanese soldiers. So it's not too much to say they were indeed "exploitation trains."

One year after national liberation in 1945, however, these lines were converted to national railways and served as key local transportation means. In the end, the Suwon-Inchon narrow-gauge train stood alone after the Suwon-Yeo,iu line was eliminated March 31, 1972, with the development of a land route.

Though small in size, the train's weight amounts to 21 tons a carriage. 'I'his mini train has experienced a lot of ridiculous but true happenings clue to its narrow center of gravity.

Park recollected accidents which occurred when the mini train passed through railroad crossings. Struck bv trucks and buses which ignored the signal lamps, it toppled on one side like a wrestler attacked at the left ankle who then fills to the right.

We even occasioniolly stop the train in front of the crossings to protect it from lamp-neglecting buses or trucks," Park chuckled.

Of course, the number of casualties was higher in the trucks and buses than in the train. After all, a train is a train!

Interestingly enough, it cannot stand on the ground. If there are minute indentations on the surface, it cannot keep its balance.

"When the train saw its best times, it was packed with about 200 passengers in a carriage. The legal capacity of the train is 100. So when the train ascended a slope people got off and pushed it. Can you conceive of a train being pushed by people? Ha-Ha-Ha!!! So people love this train like their children. Nobody complains when the train stops due to engine troubles. Rather they worrv about the train itself. Nearby residents' even bring food and snacks while repairing it," Park reminisced, the sadness in his eyes bearing testament to the line's impending closure.

According to 1 report by the Transportation Ministry, the mini train is destined to vanish into the past with the phase-out of the Suwon-Sorae line in a year or two. In what appeared to be the first sign of the line's demise, the ministry, in fact, stopped the operation of the 8.3 km line between Songdo, originally the track's last stop, and Sorae July 20, 1992. The second sign came Sept. 1 this year when the operation of trains between Sorae and Handae-ap Station ceased. All that remains of the line is 20.2 km between Suwon and Handae-ap Station, a nominal operation. (Yoiihap)


Recently we received a letter from Eric Sibul, and with his permission, I am reproducing it here.

I worked a civilian job and was a reservist in the Republic of Korea between 1994 and 1998. The Inchon-Suwon line was cut to a connection between Suwon and Hyundae-up (a connection to the Seoul-Ansan electric line) some time in the early nineties. The last remaining station with an agent was at Yuchon. The line went out of service on December 31, 1995. I made most likely the last "fan trips" by an American on December 29 & 30. There was an engine house at Suwon. It was a meticulously maintained facility. For heavier shop work, the narrow gauge motors and rolling stock were loaded on standard gauge flat cars by means of a special ramp, at Suwon, and taken to standard gauge shops (Ed Note: That hasn't changed since I was there. A few of the pictures show locomotives on flat cars enroute to and from the Yongdong Po back shops.) The tracks and bridges are still in place between Suwon and Hyundae-up. I think this part of the line will be eventually converted to standard gauge electric. The track near Suwon station was taken up and the space is occupied by material for the line refurbishment and expansion project between Seoul and Chonan (Kyongbuk Line). The engine house is being for storage as well. Another old engine house is being used by a motorcycle repair business. There were two engine houses in Suwon. The the 1990s, only one was used. At least two of the narrow gauge rail cars are preserved at the National Railway Museum at Pugok. They actually operate on a short stretch of track at the Museum. There is some narrow gauge freight rolling stock there as well. I'm really interested in Korean National Railroad as well as US army railroading during the Korean War and after. Photographs of rolling stock are especially hard to find. I have some photos from the 1990s, but I was more a passenger of the KNR than a rail fan. KNR service is really excellent. The trains are cheap, comfortable and always on time. The Koreans do a really good job running their railroads. I'm sure the technical advice from the people of the US Army Transportation Corps Military Railway Service had a role in this.

Eric has sent us a number of photos taken in 1994. There are photos of NG14-13 on the narrow gauge steam page.

The following is from Jim Gunning.

I was a CW3 assigned to the 377th Medical Battalion at Taegu from August 1986 to August 1987. As a UH-60 pilot, I had a unique view of Korea. Our mission was to provide medevac support for approximately the southern third of Korea including Cheju island. Our available flying area was the entire country.

In late August 1986 on one of my first flights in Korea, we flew Taegu -Taejon for a patient transfer. Often with non-critical patients, we would meet an aircraft from one of our sister platoons from Pyongtaek at a helipad near Taejon. The patient was transferred to another UH-60 for the ride to the 121st Evac. hospital in Seoul.

On departure from the helipad we happened to fly over the KNR workshops. As we passed over I looked down to see a steam locomotive, very much under steam, sitting in the middle of the shop area. Needless to say I racked the Blackhawk around to get a better look at it!! Of course I didn't have a camera with me, but looked the area over well and returned a few days later by car to attempt a visit.

It took a while at the front gate, but finally an English speaking guide showed up. His English was limited but we managed to communicate. He took me to the shop area where I had seen the locomotive. Sitting outside was a 4-6-2, looking very rough (I'll pass the number when I find the photo). Inside, cold, but looking very well maintained were Mika-3 Nos. 161 and 129. Both were painted a medium blue. The 129 looked ready to run and the 161 the same except for having it's mainrods off. My guide explained that 129 had just returned from running for a film crew when I had seen it under steam. He kind of dashed my hopes when he told me the next planned steaming was in May, (5th I, think) for children's day. We exchanged phone numbers and I departed. I wish I could recall his name, but so far haven't found it.

I kept checking on the doings at Taejon from the air. Finally in late April '87 I got a call from my host at the shops. I drove over to see a crew spray the last of a coat of very shiny black paint on No. 129. In a few minutes they rolled it outside and started stripping off the masking tape. The entire loco was jet black except for some pipes left in natural copper. Actually, it was so black it was hard to photograph. I was told the loco would depart for Seoul towed in a train and would run Seoul - Uijongbu -Seoul around a loop of trackage with a train full of children.

While I was at the shop my host took me over to another building and inside on a standard gauge flatcar was HYOUKI-11 No. 13. He indicated it was being overhauled for operation on the Suwon-Inchon narrow gauge line. I have never gotten confirmation if it ever ran or was just spruced up for the museum.

I showed up at the station in Seoul on the day No. 129 ran and chased it around the loop. Actually it wasn't too exciting as there was a diesel on the back end of the four car train and it appeared to do all the work. No. 129 was basically a rolling boiler to blow a whistle. At least it was Korean steam!

A day or two later a friend and I rode the Suwon - Inchon narrow gauge. We took a standard gauge KNR train to Suwon, rode the narrow gauge to Songdo station, and then walked (or rode a bus, I don't remember which) to the station in Inchon and took a train back to Seoul. Our train consisted of gas cars Nos.165 and 163 and coach No. 18026. I later came back by car to photograph the narrow gauge and the salt railroads near Inchon. Except for a few more gas cars and coaches at Suwon, the only other piece of rolling stock I saw on the entire line was one boxcar on a siding at Songdo. It was being used for a shed or storage. The steam servicing facilities (turntable and water tank) at Songdo were still there and looked operable.

As to other steam in Korea, I did see a few plinthed locomotives. I recall there was a 4-6-2 in Taegu and I did run across a few others. I didn't photo them as it seemed I never had a camera when I came across them. I did learn the two 2-8-2's I saw in Taejon shops had apparently run excursions on the line between Kyongju and Pusan along the coast. I was really sorry I didn't get to see that. I followed that line from a helo and it was spectacular!

Also the roundhouse in Kyongju was still used and was quite a neat looking place.

Here are photos which Jim has supplied on the narrow gauge.

Sheldon Perry also has some contributions. The passenger cars in use at the end included 9161 and 9164 thru 9166. These apparently had been numbered 161, 164, 165, and 166. 9165 was built in the Inchon Back Shop in December 1965 and was serial 9165. Apparently when they renumbered the cars, they used the serial numbers. 163 was at the National Railway Museum being restored in 1995.

In 1994, the line ran only as far as Han Dae-ap as the article above indicates. Here are photos at the station where the narrow gauge met the subway line between Seoul and Inchon.

You can see from the interior pictures of the cars that this was not a luxury ride. The loop in the front end of the car is the "staff" or token which allows the engineer to have access to the block ahead. It is turned in at the next station and there used to unlock the block machine at the other end of the block. When a token is removed from a machine, it locks the machine at the other end of the block.

At Suwon was the connection with the North-South main line of the KNR from Seoul to Pusan. Here was also located the shops.

This was the only freight car seen.

There are two freight cars at the National Railway Museum.

Other roster information from Sheldon is as follows:

91031 gondola built in 1955 Now at the National Ry. Museum

90013 boxcar built in 1955 " "

18011 coach built in 1965 Now at the National Ry. Museum

18012 coach built in 1965 " "

18026 coach built? stored at Suwon

18028 coach built? " "

18030 coach built? " "

These cars (18026-30) were not being used while he was there, but perhaps they were used during the holidays or other crowded days.

John Cummings has also supplied photos including some of the former US Army Locomotives and the Suwon engine terminal taken in the 1970s.

There was a salt operation which connected to the narrow gauge. It appears the gauge was about 2 foot.


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