The Pyongyang Metro

October 10, 2023

The Pyongyang Metro is one of the deepest metro systems on Earth, residing around 100 metres below the surface, it has always been a popular sight when visited on one of our tours of North Korea. Currently the Metro consists of 2 lines (The Chollima and Hyoksin lines) with 16 stations between them and a single interchange at Chonsung/Chonsu station.

For a long time, the Pyongyang Metro was shrouded in a little mystery and was the source of many rumours. Since 2010, only 6 stations were open for tourists to visit, and on most of our tours only 2 stations were visited moving up to 6 in recent years. This led to rumours that these two stations were the only “real” ones and the crowds were stage managed purely to give tourists the illusion of a fully utilised network. However, it is now possible to visit every station on the network, something we are happy to arrange as part of a private tour.

Free from advertising, the platforms and carriages have a rather unique feel compared to other public transport in capital cities around the world. The platforms are decorated with mosaics and murals depicting Pyongyang and other imagery, as well as public copies of framed newspapers to kill some time whilst waiting for your train. Within the carriages themselves, a pair of portraits of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il takes pride of place at the end of each compartment.

Unlike many metro or underground networks in the West, the Pyongyang Metro follows the pattern set by many communist countries which allowed the metro tunnels and stations to double up as bomb shelters in the case of war due to their depth. Proof of this can still be seen today as you reach the bottom of the escalator shafts in most of Pyongyang’s stations and you can spot the blast doors receding back into the walls. A pleasing side effect of the system being set so deep is that it maintains a constant temperature all year, offering respite from the heat of summer and harshness of winter alike.

Another source of interest around the Metro system in North Korea is that of it’s rolling stock. Originally launched in the 1970’s with Chinese trains, since the late 90s the Pyongyang Metro has used second hand trains purchased from the Berlin U-bahn network, some still complete with retro German graffiti scratched into the wood paneling. North Korea is now moving to its own modern and domestically produced trains, a couple of which can be seen doing runs around the network.

The purchase of the German rolling stock was also the source of rumours, with the North Korean government purchasing twice as many carriages and trains as would be needed for the size of the network. This could simply be a case of very generous redundancy/maintenance planning. Alternatively it may be an indication that more lines and stations were in the plans in the 90’s, but, it has also led to wilder speculation that Pyongyang houses a second, government only, Metro network akin to Moscow’s Metro-2.

Originally, the turnstiles used paper tokens which could be purchased by locals to allow entry to the network, but Pyongyang has recently moved to the rapidly popularising global standard of Metro contactless payment cards that can be topped up.

In recent years, maps of the Metro have shown various as of yet unopened stations at the end of each line, leading to speculation that line extensions are currently in the works.

If you’re keen to learn more about the Metro, it even has its own museum which can be visited on one of our private tours of the DPRK.

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Author Lupine
2023 Oct 10
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