Solv­ing rid­dles of Gyeongui tun­nel be­neath Hong­dae area

The Korea Times - - FOREIGN COMMUNITY - By Ron Ban­dun jron­ban­[email protected] Ron Ban­dun is a self-de­scribed “an­ar­chae­ol­o­gist.”

The area around Hongik Univer­sity in west­ern Seoul, com­monly called Hong­dae, has seen ma­jor changes over the decades. But rather than orig­i­nat­ing from the arts univer­sity sit­ting on a moun­tain­side over­look­ing the neigh­bor­hood, most changes here have been driven by in­fra­struc­ture de­vel­op­ment.

This be­came ap­par­ent to me af­ter roam­ing through tun­nels be­ing dug for sub­way in­fra­struc­ture around Hong­dae, while a thin metal deck high above my head thun­dered with the pass­ing of every ve­hi­cle on the road sur­face above.

The neigh­bor­hood saw its most re­cent trans­for­ma­tion with the ar­rival of the Air­port Ex­press (AREX) line in De­cem­ber 2010 and the Gyeongui (now Gyeongui-Jun­gang) Line in De­cem­ber 2012. Much of the area was over­run with con­struc­tion un­til rel­a­tively re­cently, with the open­ing of Gyeongui Line Book Street in late 2016 and AK Plaza in Au­gust 2018. Be­fore then, Hong­dae’s de­vel­op­ment was cor­ralled on one side by con­struc­tion.

Trains have been pass­ing through this area since 1905 with the open­ing of the Gyeongui Line con­nect­ing Seoul with north­ern Korea. Back when I was new in Korea in the early 2000s, train tracks still ran through the area re­veal­ing the Gyeongui Line’s for­mer course. But a new plan was to breathe new life into this his­toric train line by re­lo­cat­ing it un­der­ground.

By 2008, con­struc­tion fences were in place to hide the tracks, while a deep trench was ex­ca­vated for the new tun­nels.

Wan­der­ing into a con­struc­tion site one day around 2010, I dis­cov­ered a pit lead­ing un­der­ground, out­fit­ted with metal stairs and lights con­ve­niently left on. Grad­u­ally I found that no­body was down there at night to stop peo­ple like me, so over re­peated for­ays I went deeper and deeper. The ground at the bot­tom was mostly dirt, and I found the en­trance to a large cylin­dri­cal con­crete tun­nel. Fol­low­ing down that, I reached a mas­sive ma­chine fill­ing the cir­cum­fer­ence of the tun­nel, be­ing used ei­ther to form the con­crete in­te­rior sur­face of the tun­nel or pol­ish it.

I found other en­trances along the length of the Gyeongui tun­nel ex­ca­va­tion, al­low­ing en­try and es­cape in mul­ti­ple lo­ca­tions, ei­ther through sub­way vents or sta­tions such as Hongik and So­gang. Over the course of var­i­ous vis­its, my shoes touched every sec­tion of the tun­nel from where it goes un­der­ground around Ga­jwa Sta­tion in the north­west to some­where be­yond Gongdeok Sta­tion in the south­east.

I got to see the con­struc­tion progress through mul­ti­ple vis­its. I saw how they shaped it, added re­bar, poured con­crete, put tracks in and added other in­fra­struc­ture. Much of the tun­nel con­struc­tion con­sisted of dig­ging a long trench and then cov­er­ing it up again, a sim­ple but dis­rup­tive process that none­the­less got the job done.

Af­ter train ser­vices be­gan in late 2012, I dis­cov­ered some of my se­cret en­trances still open. It was pos­si­ble to go down to a vent room be­side the tracks and watch the trains speed by. Trains were in­fre­quent be­fore the Gyeongui and Jun­gang lines were merged, and I used to have a rule: stay for two trains and then leave.

In March 2013, I was bored one week­day night so I vis­ited alone. I took a wrong turn and en­tered a ven­ti­la­tion room. The floor was cov­ered in grills over­look­ing the train tun­nel be­low, and the walls were oc­cu­pied with mas­sive vents al­low­ing air to rush through, re­duc­ing wind re­sis­tance for in­com­ing trains. When I went to leave, I found the door had locked be­hind me. I was trapped.

For­tu­nately I had some cell re­cep­tion, and was able to text an SOS to a friend liv­ing nearby who shared my in­ter­est in hid­den places. He ar­rived to re­lease me within 20 min­utes. If it weren’t for that phone sig­nal, I might still be down there now, six years later.

There are var­i­ous hid­den dan­gers in­side sub­way tun­nels, which is why I never pub­licly share cur­rent in­for­ma­tion. One wrong move can be lethal. This is not a leisure ac­tiv­ity, un­less safety prepa­ra­tion is your idea of fun.

Cour­tesy of Ron Ban­dun

An ur­ban ex­plorer waves a flag in­side a tun­nel be­neath the Hongik Univer­sity area in 2013.

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