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City-News Archive

Pyongyang [KP] - Information update on the trolleybus System

K. Budach - 02.02.15


This is an update on the trolleybus System of Pyongyang, the capital of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), also known as North Korea. Readers are referred to the article in TM 245 by Sergei Tarkhov and Dmitriy Merzlov, which traced the history of the System from its opening in 1962 until 2000. Since then, relatively little news has been
received apart from a brief article in TM 309 in 2013, but a visit in August 2014 has allowed subsequent developments to be summarised.
The network remains almost the same as shown on the map dated 1998 on page 106 of TM 245, although a 2 km section south-east from Yokjon Street depot to Rangrang has been abandoned, reducing the overall size of the System. In addition, there have been some modifications to the arrangement of Services provided on the network. These are shown
on the accompanying map as Services 1-8, these numbers being allocated purely for the purposes ofthe map. Some, if not all, ofthe
"routes" have separate operational Services such that vehicles stop at a different set of stop locations along each street. Vehicles carry
small numbers indicating which set of stops the vehicle will serve. We did not visit the roads covered by route 7, so cannot confirm
its Status, however no trolleybuses on route 8 were visible from a train on the parallel railway. Tarkhov and Merzlov explained that the
introduction of a tram network in 1991, to serve growing suburbs, had led to a significant reduction in the trolleybus System between
then and 2000, reducing the System from 54 km in 1989 to 35 km in 1998. At that time, further extensions to the tram System were
planned, and it was expected that some of these, at least, would lead to another reduction in the trolleybus network. It is of interest that the reverse has proved to be the case. Not only has none of the planned tram extensions been constructed, but tram Service has been withdrawn from the eastern section of route 1, from the Railway Station along Yonggwang Street and over Taedong Bridge to Songsin, a distance of
around 7.5 km, and the track has been lifted. Although some parts of this section did not conform to the gutter-running layout to be
found on the rest ofthe tramway and could thus be considered non-standard, it is thought that the main reason for this abandonment is
the shortage of suitable second-hand trams, at a reasonable price, required continually to rejuvenate the fleet by replacing those trams
which need to be withdrawn because they are life-expired and not capable of repair All current Pyongyang trams are of Tatra
manufacture, either imported new upon the opening of the System, or acquired secondhand from various European undertakings. It has been stated that the withdrawn tram Service is to be replaced by trolleybuses.
This will mark a reintroduction of trolleybus Service on the route because Songsin was one ofthe trolleybus routes withdrawn upon
the commencement of trams in 1991. It is not appropriate here to discuss the comparative technical capabilities ofthe tram and the
trolleybus in dealing with varying passenger flows, but in the DPRK context the trolleybus has one over-riding advantage. It is not
imported like the tram, it is home produced, and this means that it is not only considerably cheaper than the tram but, more importantly,
it conforms with the concept of Juche, the political doctrine promuigated by Kim II Sung, the founder of the present-day DPRK. Juche, in Short, means "self-reliance". The trolleybus System opened with DPRK-constructed trolleybuses in 1962 and, with the exception of the conversion of some imported Ikarus and Karosa diesel buses into trolleybuses, all Pyongyang trolleybuses have been, and continue to be, entirely of DPRK manufacture. All recent trolleybus production has been
by the Chollima factory. The name Chollima is that of a mythological horse, said to have been capable of travelling 400 km a day, and was
applied to the movement for greater economic activity instigated by Kim II Sung in the 1950s. The horse appears frequently on the badge of
Chollima products. The current model, the Chollima-091, is a
modern-looking articulated vehicle, although of somewhat sluggish and sometimes noisy Performance. Thanks to a handwritten notice
in ttie Window of an unnumbered example displayed at the Three Revoiutions Exhibition we can give a few details. The vehicles are
16995 mm long, 2500 mm wide and 3000 mm high. They weigh 14.7t and have a maximum speed of 45kph. A 130kW motor is fitted. A figure of 170 on the notice is believed to represent the passenger crush load, which is the normal State of affairs on every route. It was stated that there were around 150 vehicles in Service with a further 50 due in 2015 and as nearly 90 vehicle fleet numbers were logged this would seem to be correct. There is no standardisation in colour choice or application,
different shades of blue and mauve with white being most common, though a handful of vehicles are in light olive and white. Some of
the liveries incorporate flower or fish designs. With new deliveries being received all the time, they are gradually replacing a variety of
older models and providing additional capacity for future expansion of the System. From comparisons with vehicles previously recorded
on Websites and in published lists, it is the converted Karosa B732 motorbuses and the articulated Chollima-862 models which have
borne the brunt of recent withdrawals. A few, but not many, of the new vehicles carry the same numbers as previously recorded vehicles of
older types. Withdrawn trolleybuses may not necessarily have been scrapped; it is possible that vehicles in better condition could have
passed to one or more provincial Systems. Intriguingly, examples of much older makes of trolleybus continue to be used in Service, and judging by the plethora of stars adorning the waist-rails of many of them, are much loved. Each star represents 50,000km of safe driving, and as is common in sovietstyle operations particular vehicles are
allocated to a regulär driver or crew. One of the earliest small two-axle trolleybuses of the Chollima-9.11 type, no. 612, has been
preserved for posterity It is used in depictions with Kim II Sung, who ordered the construction of the System over 50 years ago. The converted Karosa 8732 motorbuses originate from a batch of 800 motorbuses supplied to the country in the 1980s. When engine failure occurred, conversion to electric power took place because replacement or spare engine parts were difficult or impossible to obtain.
While the accompanying tables (pages 11-12) suggest homogeneity within each type, there are in fact quite distinct differences within the types. For example, there are both two- and three-doored Karosa B732 vehicles, but when seen from the offside it is usually impossible to spot
which is which on account of the crush of passengers. Again, with the earlier models, differences are sometimes made between
two- and four-leaf doors, but these cannot always be seen. Also there are differences in Window sizes and spacings on both the rigid Sonyon and articulated Chollima-90 types, which share the flat one or two-piece
windscreen treatment. Some of the older two-axle vehicles seen
were more or less empty but still appeared to be fully seated; it is thought that they may have been on driver training duties, and they
were not numbered in the high 5xx series as were other Support vehicles. These Support trolleybuses were particuiarly interesting,
especially those fitted with wooden tower equipment on the roof for working on the overhead lines. A simple wooden ladder from inside the vehicle gave access to the roof. When in use, it is noteworthy that the
vehicle's trolley poles remained on the wires while work progressed! Tower-equipped trolleybuses were probably renumbered when demoted from passenger carrying duties. Perhaps the most interesting of the
Support vehicles is no. 583, which is not equipped with a tower, but has an open rear section, cabrio-style. Its origin is almost certainly a motorbus, but as it is right hand drive, it probably was once operated in
Japan and is perhaps a Hino or Fuso make. Former Japanese motorbuses were seen in use, possibly for private staff transport, still
with their original now offside door(s).

This news item was taken from Trolleybus Magazine , with the kind permission of the editor. Trolleybus Magazine is a bi-monthly publication which reports about worldwide events and developments concerning Trolleybuses and is available through the National Trolleybus Association (NTA).

Photos: Daniel Möschke


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