The first railway in North Korea opened in 1906 from Seoul (then capital of the undivided country, now in South Korea) via Pyongyang to the border city of Sinŭiju. It was built to standard gauge (1435mm). In 1911, a railway bridge opened across the Yalu River connecting Sinŭiju with Dandong in China, and thence to the Chinese rail network.
Further railway developments within the country were predominantly to standard gauge. There are, however, a number of sections of narrow gauge (762mm) railway, mainly in mountainous areas but also with a sizeable network in Hamhŭng, serving the needs of factory workers.
There are international connections with China for passengers and freight, and with Russia for freight only.
Connections with China were severed during the Second World War but restored soon afterwards.
An international connection with Russia was established in 1952 with the opening of a wooden bridge across the Tumen River between Tumangang and Khasan in Russia, where there was a break of gauge. The wooden bridge was replaced by a more permanent structure in 1959. Traffic on this route declined during to 1990s and the link was closed completely for a time. The link remained in a run down state until 2008 when a reconstruction program was put in place. The line from Tumangang to the port of Rajin, rebuilt as dual gauge (standard 1435mm and Russian 1520mm), was completed in 2011. The reopened connection with Russia was officially inaugurated in 2013.
The North Korean network was disconnected from that of South Korea following the partition of 1945. A connection with South Korea was officially reopened in 2003, but trains did not run until 2007. Freight traffic was sparse and services ceased in 2008. Despite aspirations, no passenger services used the restored link. Plans were announced in late 2018 to reopen the link, which in addition to allowing trade between the two countries would enable through freight services between South Korea and China. A trial train ran over the link in November of that year.
In 2016, construction commenced on a new tourist line, planned to serve Mount Paektu on the Chinese border.
Flag image from CIA World Factbook