Published Nov 11, 2023
You managed to finally get to one of the most enigmatic cities in the world, Pyongyang. Thanks to the organized tour that you had to join, you have been around the eclectic structures that the hermetic regime has ordered in the last decades. But there is something architecturally magnificent that is hidden beneath the North Korean capital, the Pyongyang Metro.The underground is a must-visit, boasting an impressive system-wide collection of nationalist art, with each station showcasing a fundamental aspect of the North Korean revolution. Let’s explore it!
The Pyongyang metro is relatively small, with only two lines and 17 stations; two of them are closed to the public. The grandiosity of this project lies in the remarkable depth at which the railways were laid: between 110 and 120 meters, and possibly even deeper. Like many other aspects of North Korea, a layer of secrecy and mystery shrouds this iconic infrastructure. These numbers set the Pyongyang metro among the deepest subway systems in the world.
What is absolutely clear and obvious is the abundance of socialist-realist designs which adorn many of the metro stations. Keep your eyes open for the deluge of mosaics, murals and statues.
This imposing infrastructure project shares some similarity with the metro system of Moscow. The depth and the refined decorations in socialist-realist style will look familiar to someone who has spent time visiting the Russian capital.
The names of the stations do not follow the traditional pattern seen worldwide, where the station's name is derived from streets or landmarks above ground. Instead, the Pyongyang metro uses a naming system inspired by revolutionary themes. Consequently, station names range from 'victory' to 'reunification.'
Let's visually immerse ourselves in the Pyongyang Metro through the video by Elliott tour director at North Korea tour operator Uri Tours, and don't forget to turn up the volume to fully experience the epic soundtrack which keeps company to passengers entering and exiting the metro stations.
Let's explore the historical milestones that shaped the Pyongyang metro into the infrastructure we know today.
1965 - Construction of the Pyongyang metro started
1968 - Beginning of construction on Chollima Line 1, which initially included only 6 metro stations.
1969 - 1972 Construction of the first stations
1971 - Major accident during the Taedong River tunnel construction for Ponghwa station; the eastern tunnel section was never finished, resulting in the entire metro network being located on the western side of the river.
1973 - The subway system was introduced to the public, offering rides for a fixed fare of 5 Korean Won, regardless of travel distance, making it the most affordable subway system globally. This pricing remains unchanged and is still in effect today.
1975 - Hyoksin Line 2 was unveiled to the public.
1980s - Pyongyang's rolling stock primarily comprised Chinese-designed and Beijing-made subway cars.
1987 - Two new stations opened on Line 1 – Rejuvenation station near Mansudae Art Studio and Glory station beneath Pyongyang Railway Station. These stations are the metro's largest and grandest.
1995 - Kwangmyŏng Station (Korean: 광명역) on the Hyŏksin Line of the Pyongyang Metro is reported to have been closed since 1995 due to its proximity to Kim Il Sung's mausoleum. Although trains no longer halt at this station, the platforms are visible when passing on the metro. As a mark of respect for Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il, the trains reduce their speed while passing through.
1997 - North Koreans imported metro cars from East and West Berlin, featuring German graffiti that remains today. The subway cars were cleaned by the Germans, and North Koreans added portraits of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il, as well as connected speakers to Pyongyang underground radio for updates and propaganda music.
1999 - A Korean Broadcasting System news report announced the construction of two metro lines. Line 3 was planned to connect Kwangbok station to Mangyongdae, while the location of Line 4 remained undisclosed. These two lines were intended to open in time for the 55th Party Foundation Day. However, nothing really happened.
2000s - Plan to open new metro lines to East Pyongyang and Mangyondae, but the plan remains unfulfilled.
2010 - National Tourism Agency of the DPRK allows tourists to ride six stations, expanding from the previous two.
2014 - Full exploration of the entire metro system is permitted.
2015 - Kim Jong Un rides a newly manufactured four-car train set, reportedly developed and built at Kim Chong-t'ae Electric Locomotive Works in North Korea, despite the cars appearing to be significantly renovated D-class cars.
2019 - Tongil Station: Added TVs, LED displays, and electronic guide maps on platforms and escalators.Kaeson Station: Refurbished with new lighting, TVs for passenger entertainment, LED signs showing train information, and local weather updates.
2020 - Jonu Station Renovation, added TVs and electronic displays.
2021 - 8th Congress of the Workers' Party of Korea announcement: Plans to advance the updating and renovation of the Pyongyang Metro, including the production of new-type subway trains.
The Pyongyang Metro is made up of two lines, Chollima Line (Korean: 천리마선) and Hyoksin Line (Korean: 혁신선). 17 stations and 35 kilometers (21.3 miles) of railway The two lines intersect at Chŏnu Station.
The Hyŏksin Line, which literally means "renewal," connects Kwangbok Station in the southwest to Ragwŏn Station in the northeast. The Hyŏksin Line is characterized by several key features. Covering an extensive distance of approximately 15 kilometers (9.3 miles) and has 9 stations (including the closed one), it has a standard track gauge of 1435mm.
Interestingly, the map of the Hyŏksin Line reveals exciting developments. Beyond Kwangbok Station, two additional stations, Yŏngung (영웅) and Ch'ilgol (칠골), are reportedly under construction.
The Chollima Line in the Pyongyang metro is an integral part of the city's transportation network. It starts its journey from Puhŭng Station on the banks of the Taedong River and extends northward to Pulgŭnbyŏl Station. The line operates with a depot located at Sopo, near the Korean State Railway's Sopo station.
In the 1980s, there were plans to extend the Chollima Line to Pyongsong. The section from Ponghwa station to Puhung station is also referred to as the Mangyongdae Line; however, most sources commonly acknowledge the metro system as having two main lines.
The Chollima Line consists of eight stations, providing essential transportation access to various parts of Pyongyang, covering a distance of 20 kilometers (12 miles).
The Chollima Line takes its name from an ancient Korean mythological creature known as the winged horse.
Pulgunbyol Metro Station
Pulgunbyol Station, located on the Chŏllima Line of the Pyongyang Metro, offers easy access to prominent attractions including the Mansudae Hill Grand Monument, Sungryong Hall, and the Three Revolutions Exhibit. The station boasts two platforms and two tracks. (Read More)
Jonu Metro Station
Jonu Station, part of the Chŏllima Line within the Pyongyang Metro, is conveniently located near Chonsung Station. In 2020, this station underwent a comprehensive renovation, introducing modern amenities such as televisions and electronic displays. It features a single platform and two tracks and provides a direct link to the Hyoksin Line through Chonsung Station. (Read More)
Kaeson Station - 개선역
Kaeson Station, part of the Chŏllima Line in the Pyongyang Metro, is conveniently located near the Arch of Triumph and Kaeson Youth Park. In 2019, the station underwent refurbishment, introducing new lighting, TVs for passenger entertainment, LED signs displaying train information and local weather. The mural inside the station is titled 'The People Rise up in the Building of a New Country.' (Read More)
Tongil Metro Station
Tongil Station, also spelled as Thongil Station in North Korean official terms, is a prominent station located on the Chŏllima Line within the Pyongyang Metro. In 2019, Tongil Station underwent significant renovations, incorporating modern amenities such as TVs, LED displays, and electronic guide maps on the platforms and escalators. The station boasts unique embossed copper carvings depicting themes related to national reunification, enhancing its cultural significance. (Read More)
Sungni Metro Station
Sungni Station, known as 승리역 in Korean, is a station on the Chŏllima Line of the Pyongyang Metro, situated in Chung-guyok, Pyongyang, featuring one platform and two tracks. (Read More)
Ponghwa Metro Station - 봉화역
Ponghwa Station serves both the Chŏllima Line and the Man'gyŏngdae Line of the Pyongyang Metro. These lines are interconnected, with trains from one line continuing on the other. While some Chŏllima Line trains used to terminate at this station, it now offers seamless service between the two lines. The station is characterized by a single-story building with a prominent clock above the entrance. (Read More)
Yonggwang Metro Station
Yŏnggwang station is a metro station on the Mangyongdae Line of the Pyongyang Metro. Before the rules were relaxed in 2010, it was one of the only two stations that tourists could visit, the other one being Puhung station, because these two stations are the most finely decorated in the system. The station features murals on either side of the tunnel, 80 meters (260 ft) long each. A third mosaic mural is called Lake Chon on Mt. Paektu. (Read More)
Puhung Metro Station - 부흥역
Puhung Station, situated on the Mangyongdae Line of the Pyongyang Metro, serves as the southern terminus of the Chollima Line. It was among the only two stations accessible to tourists before the rules were relaxed in 2010, alongside Yonggwang Station, owing to their intricate decorations and status as the system's last two completed stations. Puhung Station is adorned with murals that include "The Great Leader Kim Il-sung Among Workers," "A Morning of Innovation," and "Song of a Bumper Crop." (Read More)
Kwangbok Metro Station - 광복역
Kwangbok Station, part of the Hyŏksin Line of the Pyongyang Metro, is adorned with a golden statue of Kim Il-sung and murals depicting slogan trees bearing revolutionary slogans from the anti-Japanese struggle era. Notable among these is the embossed mural, 'Lake Samji in Spring,' measuring 70 by 4 meters. The station was inaugurated on September 9, 1978. (Read More)
Konguk Metro Station - 건국역
Konguk Station, a significant stop on the Hyŏksin Line of the Pyongyang Metro, is conveniently located opposite Potonggang Station, a railway and freight hub with a marshaling yard. The station features a captivating mural called 'The River Pothong of Paradise' and was inaugurated on September 9, 1978. It offers one platform and two tracks, with direct connections to Potonggang Station and a tram interchange with Pyongyang Tram Line 1. (Read More)
Hwanggumbol Metro Station
Hwanggumbol Station (Korean: 황금벌역) is a metro station along the Hyŏksin Line of the Pyongyang Metro, beautifully located adjacent to a park and near the Sinso Bridge spanning the Potong River. This station serves as the terminus for trolleybus line 8, connecting it to the Arch of Triumph, providing a convenient transportation option for commuters. Hwanggumbol Station features one platform and two tracks and was officially opened on September 6, 1978. (Read More)
Konsol Metro Station - 건설역
Konsol Station, a unique stop on the Hyŏksin Line of the Pyongyang Metro, stands out with its side platforms, unlike other stations using an island platform configuration. Conveniently located in front of the iconic Ryugyong Hotel and close to landmarks like Pyongyang University of Science and Technology, the Victorious Fatherland Liberation Museum, and Pyongyang Arena, it offers easy access to these significant sites. The station features captivating murals titled 'A Construction Site of Blast Furnace' and 'Builders of the Capital City.' Konsol Station has two side platforms and two tracks, with an underground structure, but it is not accessible. (Read More)
Hyoksin Metro Station
Hyoksin Station (Korean: 혁신역) is a station situated on the Hyŏksin Line of the Pyongyang Metro in North Korea, conveniently located across the street from a park and surrounded by a mix of residential and commercial buildings. This station was officially inaugurated on September 9, 1975. (Read More)
Chonsung Metro Station
Chonsung Station (Korean: 전승역; also spelled as Jonsung Station) is a pivotal stop along the Hyŏksin Line of the Pyongyang Metro, strategically located near Jonu Station, the Embassy of the People's Republic of China, and the Ryomyonggori Cinema. In 2020, the station underwent significant refurbishment, resulting in a brighter platform, the addition of TVs, comfortable seating, and an updated exterior building. Chonsung Station, officially opened on September 9, 1975, provides one platform and two tracks, with a direct link to the Chollima Line through Jonu Station. (Read More)
Samhung Metro Station
Samhung Station (Korean: 삼흥역) is a prominent stop along the Hyŏksin Line of the Pyongyang Metro, located near the Pyongyang University of Foreign Studies and Kim Il Sung University, making it a convenient transit point for students and visitors. (Read More)
Kwangmyong Metro Station - 광명역
Kwangmyŏng Station, a former stop on the Hyŏksin Line of the Pyongyang Metro, closed in 1995 due to its proximity to Kim Il Sung's mausoleum, causing trains to bypass it. The station, with parking facilities, is near the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun. In its operational days, Kwangmyŏng Station featured two platforms and two tracks, initially opening in 1978 but discontinuing service in 1995. (Read More)
Ragwon Metro Station
Ragwon Station (Korean: 락원역) is a significant stop on the Hyŏksin Line within the Pyongyang Metro, featuring a captivating mosaic mural titled 'Masters of the Country.' It is conveniently located near notable attractions, including the Korea Central Zoo, Mount Taesongsan, the Central Botanical Gardens, and the Pyongyang Memorial Park. (Read More)
You won't have to handle system navigation on your own; your guide will take care of that for you. Here's some essential information to know before you hop on the train: The Pyongyang Metro runs from 5:30 am to 11:30 pm and is designed to have trains operating every few minutes. During peak hours, trains can run as frequently as every two minutes. Additionally, these trains have the capability to play music and other recordings. Currently, during rush hour, they run every 3 minutes, and throughout the rest of the day, they run every 5 minutes. The metro system operates between 5:30 am and 11:30 pm.
When it comes to tickets, whether paper or card, an important resource is this Japanese website. It doesn't matter if you don't speak Japanese; the pictures contained on the web page are self-explanatory (and Google Translate can help unravel the mystery).
It would be a mistake to relegate the Pyongyang metro to a mere infrastructure project.
Hidden beneath a depth of a hundred meters lie exquisite examples of socialist-realism artistic wonders, showcasing the finest expressions of socialist realism design through mosaic murals, metallic reliefs, and statues.
But what is socialist realism? Socialist realism was an official style of idealized realistic art in the Soviet Union from 1932 to 1988, also adopted in other socialist countries after World War II. It depicted communist values and often featured highly idealized figures, particularly in sculpture. It should not be confused with social realism, which focuses on social concerns. Socialist realism had a straightforward and literal meaning, primarily showcasing an idealized USSR. It dominated Soviet art from the early 1920s to the late 1960s and persisted longer and more strictly than in other European countries, eventually declining with the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991.Today, arguably the only countries still focused on these aesthetic principles are North Korea, Laos, and to some extent Vietnam. Socialist realism had little mainstream impact in the non-Communist world, where it was widely seen as a totalitarian means of imposing state control on artists.
The Pyongyang metro, specifically Puhung and Yonggwang stations, offers a remarkable showcase of socialist realist art reminiscent of Moscow's iconic metro stations.
The art within the Pyongyang metro, including murals, mosaics, and statues, boasts an impressive scale and technical mastery. These monumental creations serve as powerful vehicles for conveying educational messages about nationhood and unity, making them accessible to society at large.
To gain a deeper insight into the magnificent mosaics featured in the metro stations, make sure to watch the following video which contains an interview conducted by Koryo Tours with Nam Chung Kil, the Mansudae Art Studio artist responsible for creating these stunning mosaics. These immense artworks, some of the most exceptional examples of mosaic art in North Korea, require several months of meticulous work to complete.
Mural at Puhung Station entrance
Topolinochamp, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons
Mural inside Puhung Station
Statue of Kim Il Sung at Kaesŏn Station
Socialist realist mural at Ponghwa Station
• Because of the metro's significant depth and absence of above-ground segments, its stations can also serve as bomb shelters, complete with blast doors installed in the hallways.
• During times of conflict, the metro stations can function as bomb shelters, equipped with substantial steel doors for added protection. Some reports suggest that these stations may have connections to major military installations, and there are also rumors of secret lines exclusively reserved for government use.
• Before 2014, only the two most grandiose stations were shown to tourists, which led to doubts about the authenticity of the Pyongyang metro.
• The metro's depth is such that the platform maintains a steady temperature of 18 °C (64 °F) throughout the year.
• In addition to the main passenger system, there is said to be an underground network reserved for government use, resembling Moscow's Metro-2. This covert Pyongyang system is rumored to connect essential government sites. Furthermore, reports suggest the presence of an expansive underground plaza designed for mobilization, along with an underground road linking two metro stations.
• The Pyongyang Metro Administration Bureau, which manages the system, ranks as the least accessible metro for wheelchair users worldwide.
• The Pyongyang Metro offers the cheapest fare in the world, with tickets priced at a mere five North Korean won, equivalent to just half of a US cent.
• The escalator ride from the ground to the platform takes three and a half minutes.
We assessed the sentiments of foreign travelers regarding their experiences riding the Pyongyang Metro, based on data from 2019-2020 the last data available before the complete shutting down of the country due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
1. One visitor described it as an authentic and favorite experience in Pyongyang, praising the old yet orderly and clean stations and platforms. They highlighted the unique character and beauty of the murals on the walls, even if they are of North Korean propaganda art. The metro can get crowded during rush hour, but guides take good care of tourists, and locals offer seats. The platforms are great for people photography.
2. Another traveler emphasized that riding the metro with regular people debunked the notion of public shows for tourists. They found that the locals were just regular people going about their daily business, although they tended not to make eye contact, likely due to the presence of large groups of tourists.
3. A different visitor considered the Pyongyang metro a must-do experience. They appreciated the stations as if they were art galleries, with cleanliness, vibrant colors, and an amazing atmosphere. The steep decline into the subway was particularly phenomenal.
4. One traveler marveled at how the Pyongyang metro becomes the sightseeing destination itself. They were impressed by the physical premises, including murals, long escalators, and expansive underground spaces. They also found the ability to interact with local citizens to be a highlight of their trip, showing that people in the isolated country still find moments of laughter and fun, even in the dimly lit subway cars.
5. A group of tourists visited three of the 16 Pyongyang metro stations, highlighting their immense depth and underground design. The artwork and decor in the stations were commended. The travelers also mentioned the potential use of these deep stations as bomb shelters. The last station provided access to the Arch of Triumph in downtown Pyongyang, and they recommended purchasing a small metro guidebook.
How deep is the Pyongyang metro?
The depth of the Pyongyang metro is between 110 and 120 meters, which ranks it among the deepest metro systems in the world. Saint Petersburg Metro also claims to be the deepest, based on the average depth of all its stations.
How many people use the metro in Pyongyang?
The daily ridership of the metro in Pyongyang is estimated to be between 300,000 and 700,000 people.
How often do the trains in the Pyongyang metro run?
The trains in the Pyongyang metro have varying frequencies. During rush hour, they can operate at a minimum interval of two minutes. However, in current service, they run every 3 minutes during rush hour and every 5 minutes throughout the day.
How many vehicles made up the Pyongyang metro?
The Pyongyang metro consists of a total of 224 vehicles, which are divided into two types: 216 of Type D and 8 of Type 1.
How long are the trains of the Pyongyang metro?
The trains in the Pyongyang metro have a length of 4.
How long is the Pyongyang metro?
The length of the Pyongyang metro system is approximately 22.5 kilometers (14.0 miles).
What is the maximum speed of the Pyongyang metro?
The maximum speed of the Pyongyang metro trains, specifically Type D, is approximately 70 kilometers per hour (43 miles per hour).
What does the Pyongyang metro logo represent?
The Pyongyang metro logo represents the concept of being "underground." The logo features the Korean word "ji," which translates to "ground." The V shape beneath the word logically points downward, symbolizing being beneath the surface. When combined, it signifies "underground." In Korean, the term for underground railway is "ji ha chol," where "ha" means "under" and "chol" is the shortened form for "railway," essentially meaning "iron."
See page for author, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Where can the tourists travel in the Pyongyang Metro?
Tourists can travel to six metro stations in Pyongyang since 2010, and starting in 2014, all metro stations have been opened to foreigners. University students traveling with the Pyongyang Project have also reported visiting every station. However, it's important to note that all movement within the metro must be taken with an official tour, as is the case everywhere else in North Korea.
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This interactive map of the Pyongyang metro offers a dynamic way to explore this unique underground transportation system. With this tool, you can access information through different categories: People, Dates, Entities, Metro Station Names (Elements), Questions.