Personally, I think Pyongyang’s Railway Station is one of the most beautiful buildings in North Korea but then again I have a thing about railway stations. While many of the high rise buildings built, at the speed of Chollima, in the city in the last five years or so may be as aesthetically pleasing, in their own ways, I wonder about their potential longevity.

The city’s first railway station was built in 1920 by the Japanese, who occupied Korea at the time. It was of similar style to that of the old Seoul station also built, a few years later, by the Japanese. Of course in those days it was possible to travel between the two cities by train, something that is not currently possible. Hopefully that will change soon.

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Original Pyongyang Railway Station – 1920s  – Japanese book “Nostalgia for Korea” published by Kokusho-kankoukai – Open Domain

The original station was destroyed, by bombing, in the Korean War. The current three story (plus basement) building, built in 1958, is classified as socialist style architecture but it is far from the boxy 1950s Soviet type buildings more commonly built in Pyongyang after the Korean War. The station is the central railway hub of North Korea both for domestic and international train travel.

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Pyongyang Railway Station
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Pyongyang Railway Station – facade detail

Especially noteworthy on the exterior of the station are the classical type caps on the otherwise bland block columns, the stunning clock tower and the two bronze statues, one on either side of the roof of the central part of the building. Rather than being common-or-garden Roman goddesses or Greek nymphs more common in the west, the statues here have that great socialist feeling and are of two Korean workers. An additional two figures can be seen on the rear of the station. Again providing that North Korean vibe to the building, the slogans on the roof of the station read “Long live the Great Leader Comrade Kim Il Sung; long live the glorious Workers’ Party of Chosun.”

Whoops, I almost forgot to mention the omnipresent pictures of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il which adorn the facade of the station, as they do every other public building in the country.

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Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il adorn the Railway Station

The area in front of the station, in addition to being a busy drop-off and pick-up zone is an important meeting place and it’s giant TV screen is in constant use for the dissemination of news, details of mementos events and other information – i.e. in the main they stream local television station news content. While we were waiting there one evening, obediently in our bus, nice sunset scenes were being displayed. Note also the inclusion of a billboard advertising a locally produced car in the first picture below – one of the few billboards in North Korea.

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Going about their business outside Pyongyang Railway Station
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Giant TV screen outside Pyongyang Railway Station

Of course more serious matters of the moment are also displayed on the TV screen. The images below (from Jon Chol Jin/AP and Ed Jones/AFP/Getty Images respectively) show, firstly, cadres watching the launching of a Hwasong-12 strategic ballistic rocket in September 2017 and, secondly, an attentive crowd watching a statement delivered by Kim Jong Un relaying China’s intent to limit oil supplies to North Korea, again in September 2017.

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People watch the launching of a Hwasong-12 strategic ballistic rocket on the public TV screen outside the Pyongyang Railway Station (AP Photo/Jon Chol Jin)
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Crowd watching a statement delivered by Kim Jong Un relaying China’s intent to limit oil supplies to North Korea (Ed Jones/AFP/Getty Images)

An excellent 360 degree image of the station and the square in front of it can be seen here:

http://www.dprk360.com/360/pyongyang_railway_station/

Being a great fan of trains, when leaving North Korea in 2014 I jumped at the opportunity to take the Pyongyang – Beijing train though I did do a 24 hours stopover in Sinuiju on the border with China en route. This train trip from Pyongyang is the subject of a separate review on my North Korea 2014 – Introduction section – Getting out of the DPRK by Train. Suffice it to say here that the quality of this international train, internally and externally, while basic compared to international standards, was far superior to anything available to locals on trains plying the rails within North Korea.

I was hoping that when we got to Pyongyang station for that trip out we would have had a good opportunity a look around. Sadly, that wasn’t to be and we were shepherded into what was obviously a VIP style lounge for international travellers, on the right hand side of the building (looking at it face on).

While jaded, the lounge was well appointed with sofas (complete with crocheted back and arm covers) and a small shop. The walls were decorated with a small amount of revolutionary artwork and yet more pictures of the Leaders. It was unclear as to whether photography was permitted inside the station or not hence my single rather poor quality picture.

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VIP – International Waiting Room

Surprisingly, there was no problem whatsoever with taking pictures on the marble platform which was, not surprisingly, spick and span if, like the waiting lounge, a little dated. That said, everything ran very efficiently when the masses were admitted to board to train.

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Waiting to board the train to Beijing
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Pyongyang Railway Station – domestic exit

Noticeably missing from the station platforms were locomotives. I will mention these again in another more general review but will just say here they are not the most modern of things. This has been admitted by none less than Kim Jong-un who has identified the upgrade of locomotives, rolling stock and the railway system more generally as a priority in recent discussions with the South Korean President, Moon Jae-in.

Even our own train backed into platform 1, the most spacious and upmarket of the station’s five platforms, so we were not able to see what would be hauling it.

On leaving the station I managed to get a couple of photos of a locomotive engine, typical of others I saw in 2014 and 2018.

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Typical North Korean locomotive
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Typical North Korean locomotive

What was noticeable was that the carriages on our international train were much more modern than local carriages, a few of which could be seen on other tracks within the station.

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Waiting to board the train from Pyongyang to Beijing
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Domestic railway carriages at Pyongyang Railway Station
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Domestic railway carriages at Pyongyang Railway Station

I feel that until improvements occur the railways/trains will remain almost a taboo subject for visitors, while the rules around railway photography will also continue to be unclear, at least in practice. I found out the later when I was admonished, albeit by our bus driver, for taking the photo below in a street in Wonsan in 2018. Our guide subsequently assured me it was permissible to have taken the photograph and that the driver had been incorrect in his assessment. I do hope the driver still has his job!

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I was (incorrectly) admonished for taking this picture in Wonsan

In 2018 I flew into and out of North Korea so did not have access to the interior of the station or the platforms.

While many agents now offer tours with travel into and out of the country by train as standard I recommend that you fly in and take the train out. Even as a train buff, I think doing the trip by train once is (essential) sufficient and of course you should also experience Air Koryo – a must do in itself.


My next North Korea (2018) – Pyongyang review– HERE

Return to the beginning of my North Korea (2018) – Pyongyang reviews – HERE


19 thoughts on “Pyongyang Railway Station

  1. I’ve also had a fascination in railway stations, and reading your blog about this one seems like I’m living in the past today, with 1950s architecture and trains that should have been modernised years ago. Perhaps somebody with a bit of foresight could set up a train graveyard when they come to decommission them. Great blog as usual Albert.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Much of the country is in the 50s Malc though recent years has seen significant progress but not yet on the railways. Nice thought re a train graveyard. When they have finished using them there is not much left to bury but if they had/got funding to upgrade everything then its possible.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes a truly amazing place … there is nowhere like it, for sure. While I have been there twice I have yet to make it to the south except for an hour or so in the middle of one night in the airport about 20 years ago. I am hoping to visit the South soon.

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  2. We’re not leaving Pyongyang by train so I suspect we may not get to see this station unfortunately. But great to see that you’re adding to your impressive and helpful collection of N Korea blogs!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You never know your luck. Yes, I managed to write a few posts this week .. including a couple on NK (second posted this morning – again train travel related). So hopefully back in writing form again after a bit of a break… Ill be doing other reviews also but hope majority are on NK – I have so much to write on it lol.

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        1. Wow I hadn’t realised you lived in SK .. that would have given you an interesting perspective on the North. While I have been North now a couple of times I have yet to visit the south (not counting a few hours in the airport in the middle of one night 20 something years ago. I plan to put that right in due course and will of course visit the DMZ and other Korean War related sites from the south when I do. Did you visit the DMZ?

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          1. Yes, Albert, I lived in South Korea for a year from March 2010-March 2011. Soon after I arrived in March, a South Korean navy ship was sunk in what was feared to have been a torpedo attack by a North Korean submarine. In the second worrisome incident, North Korea fired artillery shells at South Korea’s Yeonpyeong Island, killing two soldiers, wounding 17, and hurting 3 civilians. The South fired back and sent a fighter jet to the area. Despite these two incidents, the South Koreans seemed strangely nonchalant about the whole thing.

            I could have kicked myself for not visiting the DMZ while I was there. I don’t know why; it was just one of those things I never got around to. I’m sure it would have been fascinating.

            I wrote a blog about my time there, but it would be way too much to read at this point: https://catbirdinkorea.wordpress.com/

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          2. Bottom line is that NK and SK (read US) is still at war and until this is ended events like this will sadly happen. To his credit (the only thing to his credit) I feel Trump (albeit no doubt for his personal glory) has done more than any other president to solve the Korean issue but has been and will continue to be thwarted by the US military establishment aka Bolton and Pompero. Of course there are reasons totally unrelated to either Korea why the US wants to maintain a presence there.

            Also from the other side, the Kim regime needs and has always needed an enemy (the US) to survive. Without an enemy it looses its relevance and I feel Kim Jong-un knows and accepts this .. i.e. peace would bring his reign to an end – I don’t think he is adverse to this though some of his ruling class probably is . In the interim he has to play the role he does to maintain power. …. just my thoughts.

            Thank you for the link to your blog which I will dip into as time permits 🙂

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  3. Last week at the Frankfurt Opera I tried to explain to someone that the white water-nymph statue, clearly visible from the foyer of the opera house, had been made in North Korea. I don’t think she believed me.

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