North Korean Train State Railway
Which North Korean Train Lines Can Foreigners Travel On?
North Korean Train Line History
How Many North Korean Train Lines Are There?
The North Korean Train State Railway is the state-owned rail operator in North Korea and is under direct control of the Ministry of Railways.
The North Korean train network is extensive since it is the dominant form of transport infrastructure in the country.
Whilst there are a handful of large highways, these mainly run between the major cities such as Pyongyang, Wonsan, Kaesong and Nampo.
The most well-known line is the Pyongui Line.
This line runs between the major border crossing at Sinuiju on the northern border with China down to the capital, Pyongyang.
This line is open to foreigners who can travel into North Korea from China by rail direct to the capital.
Visitors board the train at Dandong Railway Station in China, cross the Amnok river into Sinuiju Railway Station for customs checks and then depart Sinuiju for the 6 hour rail journey to Pyongyang.
These international trains rarely stop at other stations, despite this, the Pyongui line itself has 31 stations and local trains run between Pyongyang and Sinuiju, without carrying on to Dandong.
It is also possible to travel on North Korea’s longest railway line, the Pyongra line, between Pyongyang and Rajin in the Rason Special Economic Zone. This line runs from Pyongyang over to the east coast passing through Hamhung. It then runs up the north-eastern coast passing through the provincial capital of North Hamgyong, Chongjin, and then up into the Rason SEZ.
Most of the railway infrastructure in North Korea was built during the Japanese occupation (1910-45).
Various companies built different networks around the peninsula, these came under government control (in the north) in 1945 when the northern half of Korea came under Soviet control.
During the Korean War, much of the infrastructure was partially or entirely destroyed by US carpet bombing which left the railway network in an unusable state.
With extensive financial and on-the-ground support from the Soviet Union, China and other communist-aligned countries around the world, the DPRK’s railway network was rebuilt by the end of the 1950s.
Since the rebuilding, the network was electrified as part of the Chollima Movement, a national effort to rebuild the country and to make rapid progress in all areas of society, especially heavy industry.
The North Korean train railway network has long been a centrepiece for reunification efforts and inter-Korean cooperation. Under the Sunshine policy, there was discussion about reopening the Kyongui (Gyeongui) line which ran between Seoul and Sinuiju.
Services were also begun between North and South as part of the Kumgangsan Tourist Region project. This line served South Korean tourists visiting Kumgangsan – it was closed after a shooting incident which saw the end of the joint-tourism project.
Putting a definitive figure on the number of North Korean train railway lines in the network is tricky since there are a large number of small ‘colliery’ lines and other short-distance lines which are mainly used for logistics and/or serving very specific areas.
There are thousands of miles of railway line criss-crossing the country, we may never know the full extent of the Korean State Railway Network. All the railway lines in North Korea are named using a portmanteau system based on their terminus stations. The main lines are as follows:
The longest line on the network, the Pyongra line runs between the capital and the far north-eastern city of Rajin. From here, it is possible to connect to the Hambuk line and then onto the Hongui line and cross the Tumen river into Russia.
The most regularly used line by foreigners, this line runs up the west coast of North Korea from the capital city up to the border on the Amnok river. It technically runs over the Sino-Korean Friendship Bridge into Dandong
It may seem as though this portmanteau doesn’t quite work since Kaesong doesn’t start with ‘Bu-‘. However, this line originally ran the entire length of the Korean Peninsula all the way down to the southern port city of Busan. This line also doesn’t technically terminate at Kaesong. There are 3 disused stations inside the DMZ. The final station on the northern side is ‘Panmun’ and the next station on the southern side is ‘Dorasan’ which serves as the terminus for the Gyeongui line in South Korea.
The Pyongnam Line runs between the capital city to the port city of Nampo on the Taedong river. It was actually extended in the late 20th century and now ends at the Pyongnam Onchon station, north of Nampo.
Formed by merging a series of much smaller lines, the Pyongdok Line got it’s name from the original terminus, Tokchon. The line was then extended northwards to Kujang.
Running between the small station of Chongsu (on the Pyongui Line) up to the northern border and Chongju. This line was named after its predecessor, originally run by the privately owned Pyongbuk Railway.
The Manpo lines runs between Manpo, a significant border crossing between the DPRK and China, and Sunchon. Sunchon station is located north of Pyongyang and is on the Pyongra Line.
This line runs over the West Sea Barrage. Cholgwang is the southern terminus in South Hwanghae and Sillyong-ri the northern terminus in South Pyongan. Sillyong-ri is a station on the Pyongnam Line.
The Kangwon Line is named after the province it runs through, Kangwon. It passes through the port city of Wonsan on the East Coast before terminating at Pyonggang. Similar to the Pyongbu Line, there are 3 stations beyond Pyonggang extending into the DMZ.
This line runs from Anbyon on the Kangwon Line to Kumgangsan, the Diamond Mountain. For domestic tourists, this line is an important route to one of the most famous tourist destinations in North Korea.
This line serves the north-east of North Hamgyong Province. It runs from Chongjin, the provincial capital, north to Hoeryong, the birthplace of Comrade Kim Jong Suk, and along the Tumen river border with China. Namyang station serves as a rail border crossing with China and Hongui station serves as a Russia/DPRK border crossing.
The line then continues to follow the border until it reaches Rajin station.
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