Puhung Station in Pyongyang (photograph by John Pavelka)
Experts believe the majority of passengers and cargo get around by means of the country’s extensive railway network.
Rail infrastructure may be one of the only measures of economic development where North Korea outranks the South,
In 2009, the CIA reported about 5,200 km of railroad track across North Korea’s 46,000 square miles, compared to 3,300 kilometers in the South.
Kim Il-Sung, who founded the country in 1948 and ruled until his death in 1994, was a big fan of train travel.
His son, Kim Jong Il, was famously afraid of flying. He was reported to have six personal trains, which he deployed in convoys of three to travel among his 19 private rail stations around the country.
According to state media, he died while on one of these train trips in 2011. Kim Jong-Un has broken with tradition, choosing to travel in a Russian made IL-62 — a passenger jet comparable to a 747.
For those not traveling with the Presidential entourage, rail accommodations range from Soviet chic to homemade death trap.
A Soviet M62 diesel locomotive in use in North Korea (photograph by Clay Gilliland).
Pyongyang Railway Station, with a Soviet-era diesel procured from the GDR (photograph by Clay Gilliland)
At the death trap end of the spectrum are improvised train cars people use to move themselves and goods around the countryside.
Essentially they are homemade carts and platforms, sometimes powered by old tractor or motorcycle engines, and rigged to run on existing rail lines.