The PM is deeper than almost any metro system anywhere in the world. Due to a combination of paranoia and the 'cos we can' factor, the PM is a hundred metres below ground. On regular occassions, Pyongyangers will participate in emergency drills which will see them rush to their nearest metro station and hide down its cavernous tunnels. Whether this would be particularly effective in the face on a heavy South Korean/US arsenal is hard to tell, but I guess it can't hurt.
As tourists, we were only aloud to visit two stops on the PM, and travel between them - from Puhong (Rehabilitiation) to Yongwang (Glory). We entered one weekday morning with a rush of Koreans subtly eyeing us as they headed into the station. On the wall to one side was a map of the Metro system, with a rather ambitious feature where the commuter pushes a button corresponding to their desired destination, and the appropriate Metro path is illuminated. With only two lines operational it was perhaps a little unnecessary, but would not doubt be a major source of entertainment were it actually working.
We ventured toward the escalator and was waved through by a stern looking woman checking tickets at the entrance. Apparently our guide had made the necessary arrangements. Koreans headed to ticket checker with their 2-won paper ticket in hand, issued by the understaffed ticket booth to the side. We then headed down the longest escalator (presumably, if we were going down, it should be a de-escalator) which covered the full hundred metre vertical drop. It is difficult to convey in pictures just how exceptionally long this flight was, but it took several minutes to get to the bottom.
The station we ventured into - and the one we soon exited at - were sites that Pyongyangers obviously take great pride in. Chandeliers hang from the ceiling, some formal, others attempting to represent fireworks exploding above us, whilst to the sides, behind the tracks, were majestic murals, at one station depicting life either side of the Taedong River in Pyongyang, whilst at the other depicting KIS in all his deceased glory. Perhaps the most famous image from the Pyongyang Metro is the mosiac of KIS guiding the workers of the Metro in their endeavours. Is there anything that man couldn't do?
Finally we boarded the train, a clean, simple vehicle with several carriages along the length of the track. It was late in the morning, and whilst most seats were taken, the train was not at all full. The train moved smoothly along the track, and apart from the very occasional glance from a Pyongyanger surprised to see us aboard, there was little remarkable about the trip. As all tourists must, I befriended a few local commuters, spoke to them in a language they don't understand, had a photo taken, and then walked out of their lives.
As we emerged at the other end of our epic journey, we took some time to admire the architecture and sheer beauty of the scene - not something metro stations are known for. Slowly we sauntered toward the escalator, staring wide-eyed at all around us.
There are also rumours floating around about PM, some as truth, some as muckraking.
The suggestion that the PM network as on the map does not exist, and only the two stations open to tourists do, is complete crap. On our trip, there were plenty of ordinary people doing their daily commute, and the openly publicised map was not simply for our amusement. As we pulled out of the second station, there will plenty of people still on board continuing on their journey. True, around town you see few signs indicating subway entrances, but nor was the one we visited particularly well sign-posted. Perhaps just another bout of paranoia in keeping them hidden a little. More likely is that the other stations are less ornate than the one we visited, and that's why they are not available to foreigners.
Another suggestion is that there are additional, unpublished lines which exist to serve the military and government elite as a link between various important buildings in Pyongyang. Quite possibly some truth, with nothing I saw confirming or denying. The third suggestion is that there is some sort of underground city below the depths of the Metro, quite possibly where important military infrastructue and equipment is held. Again, nothing to confirm or negate, although an interesting story backing this up was told by a frequent NK visitor.
Clearly the PM is an important part of how ordinary people move about the city, and it was fun to be a part of it. Would hate to be trapped down there if the bombs start dropping, though.