the pyongyang metro

pyongyang dk4

The original Metro trains, officially called DK4 models (although their production code was DKJI, as in the initials of Kim Jong Il), were built in China by Changchun Car Company, the maker of Beijing’s DK2 and DK3 subway cars (North Korean propaganda claims that the Pyongyang trains were assembled at Kim Jong Tae General Electric Locomotive Enterprise in Pyongyang). They were delivered from 1972 through August 1973, but some of these were returned to China from 1998, and were in use on Beijing’s Line 13 after it opened in 2002 (they have since been replaced with modern vehicles; it is unclear whether the older trains were again returned to Pyongyang). Interestingly, the DK12 were built to be deployed in a four-car formation, to match Pyongyang platform length, but when in Beijing they are in a three-car formation — reputedly because Pyongyang had removed center cars for spare parts. Pyongyang continues to use these trains, and they are sometimes seen on tourist visits, but rumors persist of secret government-only metro lines whose existence has not been confirmed, which might employ or have employed these vehicles.

Peter Kim Hee Tae, writing in early 2003, makes clear the potential extent of a possible non-public metro system:

For a safe operation for an 8 kilometre system for a half an hourly interval, it usually needs four to six units per each line. Since Pyongyang had two lines and operated at 7 minutes of interval, it could be judged that Pyongyang had at least 24 units in each of the lines, at that meant it had minimum of 144 cars. But Changchun said it had a exported total of 345 vehicles. That had meant North Korea had plenty of metro vehicles from China still in store even after some had returned to Beijing. That clearly means Pyongyang has a special subway system for political leaders. I’d believe the North Korean government will be re-using them again next time.

Chinese technology, Korean flair

The above picture shows what the original rolling stock looked like from the outside.

The Beijing Metro was built at roughly the same time as the Pyongyang Metro, with construction starting in 1965, and stations opening between 1969 and 1972. As in Pyongyang, the Beijing trains run on 750 volts DC third rail power and are 2.7 m wide; differences between the two are largely cosmetic. Below is an interior view of the original Pyongyang rolling stock:

Say cheese!

Here is a picture of a former Pyongyang train on the opening day of Line 13 in Beijing from

Back in the somewhat-freer world

berlin type GI

In 1996-1997 the Pyongyang Metro authorities bought 120 former East German GI (“Gisela”) articulated double cars (in other words, 60 vehicles consisting of two joined carriages each) built at Hennigsdorf near Berlin between 1978 and 1982 by a company that is now part of Bombardier Transportation. The German trains have proved to be significantly more reliable than the Chinese models.

From one divided country to another
Gisela in Pyongyang

The above picture shows a GI at Puhung station. It was featured on the cover of the March 2000 Berliner Verkehrsblätter (Berlin Transit Pages).

East Berlin had one narrow-profile line, from Pankow (Vinetastraße) to Thälmannplatz (later Otto-Grotewohl-Straße and now Mohrenstraße), which continued to Potsdamer Platz and points west before the Berlin Wall was built. The line was reconnected to its West Berlin counterpart in November 1993 and is now known as Line 2. However, the Berlin transit authority, the BVG, decided it was not worth upgrading older models to use the improved signaling that was introduced with unification of the east and west Berlin subway systems. More recent, upgraded, G-series rolling stock are still a common sight in Berlin, such as this one at Alexanderplatz:

Gisela, meet Alex

According to the Berliner Kurier (23 August 1996) the Koreans paid DM 30 000 each (about 15 000 euros) for the cars, which would have otherwise been scrapped. This might sound like a lot, but at that price, Pyongyang paid less for all 60 double units than Berlin paid for one A3L replacement (more than DM 4 million apiece). As the system was said to have 48 double carriages, there would seem to be enough Berlin trains to take their place. However, it seems the GIs were intended as a temporary solution, and there is evidence that they have now been removed from Pyongyang and put to use elsewhere in North Korea.

Look up for inspiration
An inside view that should be familiar to Berliners

berlin type D

In 1998 North Korea bought 108 wider-profile D (“Dora”) trains (216 vehicles) from Berlin, built in West Berlin by the companies DWM (Deutsche Waggon- und Maschinenfabriken Berlin) and O&K (Orenstein und Koppel) between 1957 and 1965, and withdrawn from service on 25 September 1999 in favor of new H models, which had entered service in 1998. As with the G-series, the BVG had planned to scrap the trains before they were approached by the Koreans. The price for the vehicles was just under 3 million marks (Der Tagesspiegel, 7 November 1998).

Many of the D-series trains were earlier sold by the West Berlin BVG to the East Berlin BVB in 1988-1989, one year before the Berlin Wall opened, to provide rolling stock for the East Berlin U-Bahn extension to Hönow (now Berlin Line 5).

The newest addition
This photo was taken by Miguel Torres and can be found at the excellent site

Note that the paint job is significantly different from both the original rolling stock and the narrow-profile Berlin trains. There are no running boards, as at 2.65 m the D-series are a mere five centimeters narrower than the original Korean trains.

A possible purpose for the large number of new vehicles could be the Metro’s proposed third line (see Maps), although evidence for this being in an advanced stage of construction is lacking. This is what this D-series looked like before its makeover:

Can't wait for Kim Jong Il
A D-series that was later sent to North Korea, thanks to U-Bahn Berlin fan site

When I visited the system, the guides insisted that the trains were Korean-built. The train number is not carried over from Berlin, the livery is radically changed, and from what I could tell, every indication that the vehicles were not manufactured in North Korea has been removed (although traces can be seen of the BVG emblem, between the driver and first passenger doors). Needless to say, all the graffiti and scratched windows had disappeared. (If only Berlin could do this.)

This, however, was what happened only to the trains shown to visitors. BBC journalist Richard Lister, in a 28 October 2000 article, reports the following:

There is an antiquated public transport system with rattling electric trolley buses and, I discovered, a metro, with old East German trains complete with their original German graffiti.

Subsequent visitor photographs show only a very few trains, such as numbers 860 and 865. Perhaps only these vehicles have been repainted, for the purpose of “showcase” visits.

shipping the berlin trains to pyongyang

The unpainted trains will look something like the following pictures, from the covers of the May 1997 and May 1999 issues of the Berliner Verkehrsblätter (Berlin Transit Pages):

Goodbye Gisela...

Above, an initial batch of 80 GI vehicles is loaded onto the ship “Gao Ling” (home port Guangzhou, China), at the Baltic Sea port of Wismar in mid-February 1997. These trains had left Berlin in December 1996; they arrived in Pyongyang on 6 April, and were fully unloaded by 10 April. A second load of 40 trains was loaded onto the “Leping Ling” by 23 March, and expected in Pyongyang three weeks later. Six more vehicles were sent to Wismar as spare-parts donors.

...and goodbye Dora

The picture above shows the loading of a first shipment of 36 D trains that took place in Wismar from 26-31 March 1999 using the ship “Alter Ego” (home port: Limassol, Cyprus), which sailed for Pyongyang via the Arctic.

According to the magazine, the sale of the rolling stock was arranged by a Berlin company with the memorable name SFH Schienenfahrzeug Export-Import Handelsgesellschaft. In the case of both the G and D trains, they were transferred to Deutsche Bahn (national railway) lines at Wuhletal station, from where they were taken to Wismar aboard closed goods trains.

The Berlin rolling stock ran at a nominal 750 volts, as did the original vehicles, but since the GI trains are substantially narrower than the original rolling stock (2.28 m compared to 2.70 m), running boards had to be added to prevent passengers from falling into the gap between door and platform. In addition, the trains are a few centimeters lower than the originals, and passengers had to step down slightly upon entering.

Some of the GI trains were initially deployed on the Athens ISAP line. These were shipped back to Berlin in 1983-4. All of them were sold to Pyongyang.

The picture below shows one of these on the Athens-Piraeus line at that time. As in Pyongyang, it was fitted with running boards, clearly visible in the photograph. While in Greece, these were known as GII, but became GIs again after their return to Berlin.

On vacation in Greece

Since these trains were sent to North Korea, other Berlin U-Bahn vehicles have been removed from service. Sources in the BVG say the North Koreans again expressed interest in these, but offered a very low price, and demanded that the trains be restored and repainted. It was much cheaper, in fact, to simply scrap them. A similar attempt by North Korea to buy older trains from the Hamburg U-Bahn fell through for the same reason.


The following table summarizes the technical details of the three train types:

Changchun Type DK4Berlin Type GIBerlin Type D
ManufacturerChangchun Car Company
Changchun, China
LEW Hennigsdorf
East Germany
DWM and O&K
West Berlin
Years built1972-19731978-19821957-1965
In service in Pyongyang*1973-present1997-20011999-present
Number built or bought345 double units**60 double units108 double units
Gauge1435 mm1435 mm1435 mm
Power supply (nominal)750 V DC, third rail, top contact750 V DC, third rail, top contact750 V DC, third rail, bottom contact
Top speed90 km/h70 km/h70 km/h
Max. acceleration1.0 m/s21.15 m/s21.3 m/s2
Motors per car4 x 66 kW4x120 kW4x150 kW
Wheels per car2 double bogies2 double bogies2 double bogies
Emergency braking (nominal)1.3 m/s21.2 m/s21.2 m/s2
Brake typeelectro-pneumatic/electricelectro-pneumatic/electricelectro-pneumatic/electric
(seated/approx. standing at 4 per m2)
Length18.80 m (single car)25.66 m (double unit)31.70 m (double unit)
Width2.70 m2.28 m2.65 m
Roof height3.51 m***3.19 m3.425 m
Floor height1100 mm***1100 mm1050 mm
Weight32.5 t35.0 t49.0 t
Doors per car side323
* Estimate; some of the original rolling stock remained in service after they were joined by the other types in around 1997-1999
** Includes trains that may be running on secret government lines
*** Assumption based on similar Beijing rolling stock

home | statistics | maps | trains | photos | guidebook | trams | links | music
about this site | comments