Russia – Rason railway (RasonKonTrans)

Pictured above (Google Earth): A map of the Khasan-Rajin Port rail service.

UPDATE 15 (2014-4-30): According to a new article in Yonhap, the new railway line is not really being used:

Russia appears to be preparing for a test operation of its newly renovated railway linked to North Korea, but the economic feasibility of South Korea’s joining the logistics project remains to be seen, a Seoul diplomat said Wednesday.

“I have been sensing that Russia is preparing to export its coal through the Rajin-Khasan railway in the near future as part of an experiment,” Lee Yang-goo, council general in Vladivostok, told reporters. “But it seems that there is no substantial demand for the rail line now.”

The project is part of Russia’s ambition to set up a rail road linking Asia to the Eurasian region. Last year, South Korea agreed with Russia to extend the track to South Korea.

Seoul officials said that they may be able to finish linking the rail to South Korea’s southern port city of Busan and put it into operation as early as next year, but experts have said feasibility of the plan remains to be seen.

Several factors, including economic and technological ones, should be taken into account before South Korean firms can join the logistics project, the council general said. “The economic feasibility should be reviewed foremost.”

UPDATE 14 (2014-4-9): Russians test coal shipment to Rason. According to the International Railway Journal:

RUSSIAN Railways (RZD) has commenced testing of freight traffic on the reopened link from the Khasan border station of the Trans Siberian Railway in western Siberia to the port of Rason, North Korea.

Two freight trains consisting of 65 wagons containing Kuzbass coal are taking part in the trials, which are intended to test the recently redeveloped railway infrastructure, as well as customs practices and freight handling at the port.

The project is being carried out by the RasonKonTrans joint venture, which was formed in 2008, and is held by RZD Trading House (70%) and the port of Rason (30%). Work involved the reconstruction of the Tumangang – Rason railway in North Korea, which included the introduction of 54km of dual-gauge (1520mm and 1435mm) track, as well as the reconstruction of 18 bridges, 12 culverts, and three tunnels with a total length of more than 4.5km.

The railway was officially opened on September 22, 2013, and was funded through RasonKonTrans’ authorised capital and loans. The joint venture has also invested to improve capacity at the port, including the addition of connecting tracks, dredging and construction of a new quay wall.

RZD says the project will attract additional traffic to the Trans-Siberian Railway, with around 4 million tonnes of freight expected to use the Khasan – Rason link per year.

According to the Moscow Times:

Russian Railways has put to use the North Korean port it helped to upgrade recently.

The state-owned railway operator said Tuesday it had started carrying Siberian coal to the port of Rajin, in what may be the first attempt to utilize the harbor after it reopened in September.

“The company has started to provide a full suite of services to ship coal through Rajin to Asia-Pacific countries,” said a statement from Russian Railways logistics subsidiary, RZhD Logistika.

A joint venture between Russian Railways and the North Korean Ministry of Railways has rebuilt one of the port’s wharfs and a rail link connecting it to Russia in a rare example of foreign involvement in the economy of the isolated dictator state. The joint venture, RasonKonTrans, where Russia holds 70 percent, sought to relieve the congestion at Russia’s Pacific ports.

Coal miner and steelmaker Mechel is the sender of the coal consignments, according to Nadezhda Malysheva, chief editor of port industry portal PortNews.

Both Mechel and RzhD Logistica spokespersons declined to comment.

Russian Railways chief Vladimir Yakunin traveled to Rajin for a grand opening of the rail service and the wharf in September. The company invested 9 billion rubles ($250 million) to upgrade both. Russian engineers supervised the work, while Koreans largely contributed with unskilled labor.

The Russian terminal at Rajin, Asia’s most northerly all-year ice-free port, will at first handle just coal freight from Russia to ship it further to China’s eastern and southeastern provinces. Further plans are to equip it to be able to provide container services.

RZhD Logistika loaded a total of 9,000 metric tons of coal on two freight trains of 130 cars each to carry to Rajin at the end of last month, it said in the statement. The cargo will next go to China’s ports of Shanghai, Lianyungang and Guangzhou.

Current load capacity of port Rajin is 4 million tons of coal a year.

Russia’s biggest coal export port, Vostochny, which sits on the Pacific coast, has the capacity to handle 18 million tons a year, Malysheva said. It and the other key coal port of Vanino operate at the top of their capacity, as exports of the fuel to Asia have increased, she said.

Coal remains the principal fuel for electricity generation at power plants in China. But its coal price declined 10 percent last year because of strong rivalry among Russian suppliers and competition from Australia, the RZhD Logistika statement said.

Even so, the government last week backed a plan to boost development of the coal-mining industry in the country’s Far East to cater to Asian markets. The idea is to have a shorter transportation leg for the shipments, compared with the distance that the coal travels from Siberia.

This Russian-language source has additional information.

Read the full story here:
First Russian Coal Heads to North Korean Port
Moscow Times
Anatoly Medetsky
2014-4-8

UPDATE 13 (2014-4-8): Business organization information. According to the Moscow Times:

A joint venture between Russian Railways and the North Korean Ministry of Railways has rebuilt one of the port’s wharfs and a rail link connecting it to Russia in a rare example of foreign involvement in the economy of the isolated dictator state. The joint venture, RasonKonTrans, where Russia holds 70 percent, sought to relieve the congestion at Russia’s Pacific ports.

Russian Railways chief Vladimir Yakunin traveled to Rajin for a grand opening of the rail service and the wharf in September. The company invested 9 billion rubles ($250 million) to upgrade both. Russian engineers supervised the work, while Koreans largely contributed with unskilled labor.

UPDATE 12 (2013-9-23): Rajin-Khasan Railway Section Opens for Service. According to KCNA:

The Rajin-Khasan railway section has been successfully rebuilt in line with the DPRK-Russia Moscow Declaration, signed in August 2001. The section was opened for service on Sunday.

Its opening serves as a landmark in promoting the friendly and cooperative relations between the DPRK and Russia, strengthening the economic and cultural ties in the Asia-Pacific region and ensuring the common prosperity of regional countries.

In the first year of the new century, historic meeting and talks were held between Kim Jong Il, leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, and V.V. Putin, president of the Russian Federation, resulting in the adoption of the DPRK-Russia Moscow Declaration.

The declaration expressed the will of the two countries to make every possible effort to carry into practice a plan for opening railway transit linking the DPRK, Russia and Europe. Such plan was the first phase for wide-ranging cooperation between the two countries, which came under spotlight of the world.

At that time some forces criticized the plan as a “daydream”, displeased with significant cooperation between the two countries as well as peace and prosperity of the Korean Peninsula.

However, the project plan went into practice in October 2008 on the eve of the 60th anniversary of the establishment of the bilateral diplomatic relations thanks to the unshakable will of the two countries and the active cooperation of their railway workers.

At the ground-breaking ceremony for the project, which was held in front of the DPRK-Russia Friendship Pavilion in the area of Tumangang Railway Station in Rason City, V. I. Yakunin, president of the Russian Railways Company, said that the world would soon witness the longest railway transit, extending more than 10 000 km, through which 100 000 containers would be transported annually from 2013.

At last, the Rajin-Khasan railway section has been successfully rebuilt this year marking the 65th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relation between the DPRK and Russia. This would bring a large-scale cooperation project between the two countries into practice, ensuring their and regional development and interests.

The railway section from Rajin to Khasan will be helpful to the economy, transport service and people’s wellbeing of the two countries. It can also develop into an international transit between Asia and Europe.

The facts show the vitality of cooperation documents of the two countries, including the DPRK-Russia Moscow Declaration, and the noble idea carried in them.

The friendly and cooperative relationship between the DPRK and Russia will grow stronger with the geopolitical importance of Northeast Asia.

Choson Exchange offers additional detail and other news from Rason here.

UPDATE 11 (2013-9-22): It appears that Russia – Rajin rail service has been launched (again). According to KCNA:

Rajin-Khasan railway section has been successfully rebuilt and opened for service with due ceremony in Rajin on Sunday.

The opening of the section will greatly contribute to developing the friendly and cooperative relations between Russia and the DPRK.

Present at the ceremony from the DPRK side were Jon Kil Su, minister of Railways, O Ryong Chol, vice-minister of Foreign Trade, Ri Chol Sok, vice-chairman of the State Commission for Economic Development, Jo Jong Ho, chairman of the Rason City People’s Committee, Im Chon Il, consul general of the DPRK to Nakhodka, officials in the field of railways and people in Rason City.

Present there from the Russian side were V. I. Yakunin, president of the “Russian Railways” Company, Alexei Tsijenov, vice-minister of Transport, Sergey Sidorov, first vice-governor of the Maritime Territory Administration, Alexandr Timonin, Russian ambassador to the DPRK, Vyacheslav Tsupikov, consul general of Russia to Chongjin, and Russians including those concerned with the railways.

Diplomatic envoys to the DPRK also attended.

V. I. Yakunin in the opening ceremony said the section has opened for service under Russia-DPRK Moscow Declaration signed by the top leaders of the two countries in 2001.

To press for the renovation of the railways running through the land of Korea will be of great contribution to the development of economic cooperation in the Asia-Pacific region in the future, he stressed.

Minister of Railways of the DPRK in his speech said that the plan of linking DPRK-Russia railways serves as a model of wide-ranging bilateral cooperation which meets the common progress and interests of the two peoples.

He expressed the conviction that the operation of the opened railways section will be successful as it was made on the principle of mutual respect and cooperation between the railway transportation fields of the two countries.

There were congratulatory speeches.

The ceremony ended with the playing of national anthems of the two countries. It was followed by a reception.

According to Yonhap:

After years of work to directly connect railway tracks between Russia and North Korea, a 54-kilometer section linking border areas of the two countries reopened Sunday with a ceremony in Rason, a special economic zone in northeastern North Korea.

A special train carrying a group of reporters arrived at Rajin Port in Rason from Khasan in the Russian Far East, making it the first train to travel between the two countries without changing bogies at the border.

Trains had traveled on the section since the Soviet era. But given differences in track width between the Russian side and the North Korean side, workers had to change bogies every time a train crossed the border.

With the end of overhaul work, North Korea appears poised to promote the development of its special economic zone, while Russia seeks to revitalize the Trans-Siberian Railway by linking it, in the future, to a railway system that would run through the Korean Peninsula.

In 2008, the two countries started work to lay Russia-sized railway tracks from the Russian border area to Rajin Port after Russian President Vladimir Putin and then North Korean leader Kim Jong Il agreed in August 2001 to directly connect the two railway systems.

Moscow shoulders 70 percent of 8.3 billion ruble, or 25.8 billion yen, in costs to lay the new tracks and build the North Korean port, while Pyongyang covers the remainder.

The two countries conducted a trial run on the section using a freight train in October 2011. They initially planned to launch commercial runs in autumn last year, but the plan was delayed until now.

Bloomberg adds the following data:

Initially, the 54-kilometer (33-mile) line will transport Russian coal to markets in the Asia-Pacific region, OAO Russian Railways Chief Executive Officer Vladimir Yakunin said at the ceremony in Rajin. The second phase of the project will involve the construction of a container-handling facility and potentially an oil terminal at the North Korean site, he said.

“Our common objective is for this link and port to be a pilot scheme for the restoration of a single transport system in North and South Korea that would link the peninsula to countries that gravitate to this region, to Europe via Russia,” Yakunin said. The CEO said he hopes the plan will help promote peace between the two Koreas, which remain technically at war following the conflict 1950-53 that divided the countries.

The route is part of a larger project, dubbed the Iron Silk Road, that would connect Russia’s Trans-Siberian Railway to South Korea via the North for an overland route cutting transportation costs to Europe. Success depends on improved ties between South Korea and its isolated Communist neighbor.

Reuters adds the following data:

Yakunin said the railway and container terminal, a project worth 9 billion roubles ($283 million), would work at a capacity of 4 million metric tons a year within two years.

Here is some additional background information:

Practical implementation of the project began in 2008, when RZD and North Korea’s Ministry of Railways signed a cooperation agreement. In October of that year, Tumangan station saw the ceremonial laying of the first link of the rails and sleepers that marked the beginning of the reconstruction of the Khasan – Rajin railway section.

In 2009, a joint venture, RasonKonTrans, was set up by Russian Railways Trading House, a subsidiary of RZD, and the port of Rajin, in order to implement the project. RasonKonTrans has in turn concluded a 49-year leasing arrangement of the railway line between Tumen – Rajin with the Donghae company of North Korea’s Ministry of Railways. The work was financed from RasonKonTrans’ share capital, as well as by funds the joint venture was able to borrow based on the project’s business plan. More than 5.5 billion roubles had been invested in the reconstruction of the Khasan – Rajin railway line and 3.5 billion roubles in the port terminal.

The final construction phase to create a universal intermodal exchange terminal at the port of Rajin has now begun, including a range of measures ranging from dredging, building a new quay wall and equipping storage yards, through the construction of industrial and office buildings and facilities to laying railway lines within the terminal itself. Yakunin continued:

“The port is designed to handle transhipment volumes of 4 million tonnes of cargo, but that is not the limit. We are confident that the cargo base will expand and that containers will be shipped through the port. The construction of the port terminal is almost complete, and we are already seeing interest from international customers and partners.”

Officials from both countries say they are working together to finalise the timetable and the joint regulations which will govern the movement of trains on this section. To ensure the interoperability of the new line with both North Korea’s railway network and the Russian rail network, there are plans to create a single control centre with the participation of experts from the RasonKonTrans joint venture and the Donghae transport company of North Korea’s Ministry of Railways.

More from RT here.

UPDATE 10 (2013-6-25): It appears that regular rail service never materialized. According to Siberian Times:

Talks in Moscow between Vladimir Yakunin, President of Russian Railways, and Jeong Gil Soo, North Korea’s Minister of Railways (MOR) agreed the final details on the Khasas-Rajin link.

The project is being implemented in accordance with agreements reached in 2000 by Russian President Vladimir Putin and then North Korean leader Kim Jong Il. It is linked to cooperation between the two countries and forms part of a project to restore traffic on the entire Trans-Korean Main Line.

‘Over the long term, this will allow most traffic between South Korea, Europe, Russia and the CIS countries to be sent by rail by the Trans-Siberian Railway,’ said one report.

The new agreement allows for a single control centre ‘with the participation of experts from the joint ventures RasonKonTrans and ZHTK Donghae MOR from North Korea to handle traffic management and facilitate collaboration with the entire railway network in North Korea. The parties also agreed to develop instructions for the movement of trains and a train timetable’, stated RIA Oreanda.

The project involves reconnecting the combined dual-track railway with 1520 mm and 1435 mm gauges on the stretch from the Russian border to the port of Rajin in North Korea, a distance of 54 km. This includes the reconstruction of three tunnels, the repair a border railway bridge and construction of a freight terminal with an annual capacity of 4 million tons at Port Rajin.

The report continued:’The project is being implemented by the joint venture RasonKonTrans, which was specially set up in 2008 and is owned by OAO RZD Trading House and the port of Rajin.

‘The stretch between Rajin and Tuman stations is estimated at 99.8% complete. Work on commissioning the signalling, centralisation and blocking equipment has been completed along the entire section with the exception of Rajin station.

‘The tunnels are now fully ready. As of mid-May 2013, all the work to replace the timber on the Korean border bridge ‘Friendship’ has been carried out. Currently, work is underway to finish the bridge and install the railing.

‘At the port of Rajin, concrete is being laid and building foundations are being installed at the administrative and amenity building, repair shop and spare parts warehouse, work has begun on laying and ballasting the railway lines within the terminals and utility lines are being laid.

‘Equipment continues to be installed at the harbour wall. Work on installing outdoor lighting and fencing the port terminal’s territory is also ongoing’.

UPDATE 9 (2012-4-2) : DPRK and Russia to start cross-border freight train service in October. According to KCNA:

Rajin-Khassan Cargo Train Service to Begin in October

Pyongyang, April 2 (KCNA) — A Rajin-Khassan cargo train service will run from October this year.

Kim Chang Sik, a department director of the DPRK Ministry of Railways, told KCNA that the laying of railroad and renovation of railway stations, tunnels and communications facilities are now under way in the section.

The railway project was highlighted in the historic DPRK-Russia Moscow Declaration, which was signed in August 2001, he said, adding:

In line with the declaration, a cooperation agreement between the DPRK Ministry of Railways and the Russia Railway Holding Corporation was concluded in April 2008 to be followed by an agreement on joint venture between Rajin Port and the Corporation.

A contract on the lease of the Rajin-Tumangang railway was made between the Ministry’s Eastern Railway Ryonun Company and the Rason International Joint Venture Container Terminal, under which the 54 km-section has been rebuilt into a mixed track from October 2008.
A trial train service took place in October 2011 between Rajin of the DPRK and Khassan of Russia.

At least 100,000 containers will be yearly carried along the line.

This section will serve as an international railway container transport line linking Northeast Asia with Europe.

KCNA also offered this video.

Yonhap also reported:

North Korea and Russia will start a cross-border cargo train service in October, Pyongyang’s state media reported Monday, in a move that could make a North Korean port a regional hub for Europe-bound shipments.

The announcement came more than three years after the two countries launched a project to rebuild two rail lines between Russia’s Far Eastern border town of Khasan and North Korea’s northeastern port city of Rajin.

The North designated Rason, which includes the Rajin port, as a special economic zone in 1991 and has since striven to develop it into a regional logistics hub close to both China and Russia.

In October, North Korea and Russia held a test run on the 54-kilometer-long railway line.

The proposed cargo service can handle 100,000 shipping containers each year, the North’s official Korean Central News Agency said in a dispatch.

The renovation project, if completed, will offer a new route of container transportation between Northeast Asia and Europe, the dispatch said, and could significantly reduce shipping time and costs.

The freight service could also help boost relations between North Korea and Russia, including their economic cooperation, the dispatch said.

The trade volume between North Korea and Russia stood at US$110 million in 2010, the latest year for which statistics are available, according to South Korea’s state-run Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency.

Russia maintains friendly ties with North Korea, though its leader Dmitry Medvedev has strongly denounced North Korea’s rocket launch set for sometime between April 12 and 16.

Medvedev made the remarks during summit talks with South Korean President Lee Myung-bak in Seoul last month on the sidelines of an international nuclear summit, according to Lee’s office.

Historical posts on this topic below:

UPDATE 8 (2011-10-13): According to KCNA, the Rajin-Khasan trial train has been launched:

A ceremony of running a trial train between Rajin and Khasan section took place outside the DPRK-Russia Friendship Pavilion in the area of Tumangang Station in Rason City, North Hamgyong Province.

Present there from the DPRK side were Vice Minister of Railways Ju Jae Dok, Vice-Chairman of the Rason City People’s Committee Hwang Chol Nam, officials in the field of the railways and working people in Rason.

Present from the Russian side were Valery A. Reshetnikov, senior vice president of the “Russian Railways” Company, Igor A. Sagitov, minister-councilor of the Russian embassy here, Vyacheslav Tsupikov, Russian consul-general to Chongjin, those related to the railways and other guests.

Valery A. Reshetnikov, addressing the ceremony, said the bilateral cooperation in the railway transport now in progress amid the care of the top leaders of the two countries is a significant event in opening a new service line for freight transport.

The trial train service has greater significance as it is timed to coincide with the 63rd anniversary of the establishment of the DPRK-Russia diplomatic ties, he added.

Ju Jae Dok in his speech at the ceremony said that the train service will be recorded in the history of development of railway transport of the two countries.

The Rajin-Khasan freight transport will make contributions to the economic exchange not only between the DPRK and Russia but also Northeast Asia and Europe, he added.

Then followed congratulatory speeches.

The trial train departed for Khasan.

Video of the train ceremony can be seen here (KCNA).

UPDATE 7 (2011-9-15): Russia to send first train on reconstructed line. According to Reuters:

Russia will send its first train along a newly repaired railway line to North Korea next month [October 2011], Moscow’s railway monopoly said on Thursday, opening up a rare trade route with the secretive nation.

The link with Russia offers impoverished North Korea at least the prospect of increasing trade with its biggest neighbours after years of international sanctions.

Russian Railways has been renovating the 54km (34 mile) rail line from Russia’s eastern border town of Khasan to the North Korean port of Rajin as part of an agreement reached during North Korean leader Kim Jong-il’s 2001 visit to Russia.

“The first demonstration train will go along the line in October,” a spokesman for Russian Railways said.

Russian Railways has also been building a container terminal in Rajin, which is one of the main centres of North Korea’s Rason Special Economic Zone.

It said the railway and container terminal, built by a joint venture called Rasonkontrans, would be used to export Russian coal and to import goods from South Korea and other Asian countries.

The railway and container terminal will work at 35 percent capacity, or about 70,000 20-foot equivalent units (TEU), in 2011, rising to 140,000 TEU in 2012 and a full capacity of 200,000 TEU in 2013, Russian Railways said.

“There is the opportunity to increase the capacity of the container terminal and the railway,” a spokesman said.

Read the full story here:
Russia to open railway track to North Korea
Reuters
2011-9-15

UPDATE 6 (2010-5-23): Both China and Russia have secured a dock in the Rajin Port. Here is a map of Rajin’s docks.

UPDATE 5 (2008-10-6): Construction has begun!

rrailway.jpgThe Russians have begun upgrading a 54km railway line that, when completed, will connect Khasan, on the Russian border, with the North Korean port cities (and special economic zone) Rajin and Songbon (aka Rason).  The railway line needs to be upgraded because the Russians use a different gauge than the North Koreans.

According to the Donga Ilbo (where the above picture originates as well):

The project will […] cost [] 195 million U.S. dollars, 72 million dollars of which will be shouldered by Moscow.

The Defense-Technology Blog quotes the project’s price at US$207 million, the difference probably the result of exchange rate calculations.  Additionally:

Eurasia’s largest transcontinental railroad of over 10,000 km will be established as a result.  Cargo transshipment from Asia to Europe along the route will take 14 days, while sea freight shipping takes 45 days. The completion of just the first stage of the project will make it possible to attract up to 100,000 containers annually to the Trans-Siberian railroad, a spokesman for Far Eastern Railways said.

I believe this deal is strategically important to the Russians for numerous reasons:

1. The Russians are happy to have a Pacific port that does not freeze in the winter.  This will open up year-round trade opportunities for Russia’s far east.

2. Bringing the Rason port under Russian “administration” puts Russia in a position to profit from linking South Korea’s economy to Europe (the DPRK will also indirectly benefit no doubt).  This could be accomplished by putting South Korean cargo in Russian ships which could be unloaded in Rason and carted across Siberia into Europe, significantly reducing the time (and cost) required to put South Korean goods on European shelves.

3. As reported earlier (herehere, and here), South Korea is interested in Russian energy resources, specifically oil and natural gas.  Ideally, pipelines could be build from Russia to South Korea (via the DPRK).  Until this pipe dream (pun alert) is a reality, however, the Rajin port will serve as an effective transit hub between the two countries.

4.  Investment in significant economic assets within the DPRK will solidify Russia’s position (vis-a-vis China) as a permanent player in political and economic developments on the Korean peninsula.

As an interesting aside, Yonhap reports that the North Korea just replaced the Minister of Railways:

Jon Kil-su, a career transportation official, has been named North Korea’s new railways minister, according to the country’s official media seen here on Sunday.

Jon, who headed the transportation ministry’s transportation command bureau, has been promoted to replace Kim Yong-sam as the top railways official in the North’s government, the report said. The outgoing minister had served in the post since 1998.

The Pyongyang Times (Link no longer available) reports on the ground-breaking ceremony:

A ground-breaking ceremony for the reconstruction of Rajin-Khasan railways and Rajin Port took place on October 4 in front of the DPRK-Russia Friendship House in the area of Tumangang Railway Station, Rason City.

It was attended by Minister of Railways Jon Kil Su, Deputy Foreign Minister Kung Sok Ung, Deputy Minister of Foreign Trade Ri Myong San, Deputy Minister of Railways Kim Chol, Chairman Kim Su Yol of the Rason City People’s Committee, railway officials and working people in Rason.

Also on hand were a delegation of the Russian Railways Company headed by President Vladimir Yakunin, Governor Sergei Darkin of the Administration of Maritime Territory of the Russian Federation, Deputy Foreign Minister Aleksei Borodavkin, railway officials and other Russians, Russian ambassador Valery Sukhinin and foreign diplomats.

The President of the Russian Railways Company made an opening address.

He said:

“The reconstruction project arranged as a result of the 2001 summit meeting between the two countries has finally entered a practical stage thanks to positive cooperation of railway officials.

“The world’s longest 10 000-kilometre railway route will come into being and 100 000 containers will be transported through it annually from 2013.

“The experimental stage of the large project for connecting the trans-Siberian railways with the trans-Koreans railway is drawing the attention of different countries.”

He hoped that the railway administrations of the two countries would steadily bolster up mutually beneficial cooperation to complete the project as early as possible.

The DPRK Minister of Railways delivered a speech.

He said it was of great significance to hold the ceremony on the threshold of the 60th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries, and continued:

“The ground-breaking for the reconstruction of Rajin-Khasan railways whose basis was provided by the DPRK-Russia Moscow Declaration signed by the leaders of the two countries in 2001 is the first step towards realizing a wide range of bilateral cooperation that conforms to the common development and interests of the peoples of the two countries.

“Rajin-Khasan railways will serve as an overland transit of friendship contributing to the development of the economy and transport of both countries and the improvement of people’s welfare and have a sure prospect of developing into an excellent international transport route that ensures transport between Asia and Europe.”

Noting the Rason area would become the region of friendship and cooperation that goes a long way towards travel and well-being of the peoples of the two countries and socio-economic cooperation, he was convinced that bilateral relations of friendship would grow in various fields, railway transport organs of the two countries would make positive cooperation and reconstruction project would be carried out successfully.

The Russian Deputy Foreign Minister made a congratulatory speech.

He said he was happy to take part in the ground-breaking ceremony, noting that it was an important occasion that gave a fresh impetus to the development of bilateral relations of friendship.

He hoped that the project would be completed as scheduled to contribute to the development of bilateral friendship.

He was followed by the Governor of the Administration of Maritime Territory. He said:

“The residents in the Russian Maritime Territory bordering on the DPRK have longed for this moment. The areas of the two countries bordering on the Tuman River have developed good-neighbourly relationship over the past decades.

“When the project is completed, their economic and cultural ties will become closer. The Russian Maritime Territory will make a positive contribution to the implementation of it.”

There were an explanation of the prospects of the project, the inaugural work of laying mixed railways and the unveiling of the monument to the ground-breaking ceremony.

The DPRK government hosted a reception that day.

Read more below:
North Korea-Russia Railway Reconnection
Donga Ilbo
10/7/2008

Russia, North Korea break ground on rail link project
(NSI News Source Info)
10/6/2008

N Korea has replaced its railways minister: report
Yonhap
10/5/2008

UPDATE 4 (2008-8-12): The DPRK and Russia have signed a Russia – Rajin railway agreement. According to the Moscow Times:

North Korea has agreed to rent out a 52-kilometer section of track to Russian Railways as part of a plan to link East Asia to Europe via the Trans-Siberian Railroad.

The 49-year lease was signed during talks Tuesday and Wednesday in Pyongyang, Russian Railways said Friday. Russian Railways will refurbish the line and build a container terminal at the North Korean port of Rajin.

Construction is expected to begin by the end of the year, Russian Railways said. North Korea and Russia also agreed to study the possibility of upgrading the rail link from Rajin to the Chinese border.

According to the Pyongyang Times (link no longer available):

Talks were held on August 6 in Pyongyang between the delegations of the DPRK Ministry of Railways and the Russian Railways Company.

They were attended by Deputy Minister of Railways Kim Chol and officials from the DPRK side and the delegation of the Russian Railways Company led by Vice-President Alexei Mersiyanov and Russian charge d’affaires Alexander Matsegora from the Russian side.

A contract on the lease of the Rajin-Tumangang railways was concluded between the Rason Transnational Container Transport Joint Venture Company and the Railway Transport Corporation (Tonghae) under the DPRK Ministry of Railways. Both sides agreed to have a ground-breaking ceremony for rebuilding the Rajin-Tumangang railways and building a container terminal in Rajin Port.

They agreed to fix the date of the ceremony within August this year.

Earlier, they formed a board of directors of the Rason Transnational Container Transport Joint Venture Company before holding the first meeting of the board.

The meeting elected members of the board, appointed the president of the company and decided on the issues related to the management of the company.

Read the full article here:
North Korea to Rent Rail Link to RZD
Moscow Times
8/11/2008

UPDATE 3 (2008-3-16): A recent report in NewKerala.com offers a broader description of the work that will need to go into the Russia – Rajin railway line:

Due to different rail gauges of the two countries, the reconstruction requires the laying of new railway tracks, rebuilding of tunnels and bridges, and upgrading of the automatic signal systems.

The handling capacity of the Rajin port, a major harbour in the northeastern part of North Korea, will also be expanded after the reconstruction.

Discussion of the broader strategic concerns can be found here.

The full article can be found here (h/t DPRK Studies):
North Korea, Russia reach agreement on Khasan-Rajin railway
NewKerala.com
3/16/2008

UPDATE 2 (2008-2-1): China and Russia seem to be competing for access to the DPRK’s Rajin (Rason) port. Rajin has ostensibly been open for business for years — with few results to show for it. The Russians and Chinese seem to believe that there is money to be made vis-a-vis Rajin and that the North Koreans are more than likely to cooperate this time around.

What the Chinese and Russians are offering the DPRK, and what exaclty each wants from the DPRK, is not readily known.

Do Russia and China want exclusive control of Rajin Port, guaranteed access, or simply guaranteed low port taxes?

The World Tribune offers a bit more information of what the Russians are offering:

Farther north along the North Korean border, the port city of Rajin will soon start receiving electricity it badly needs from the Inter RAO UES Company of Russia.

“We have no idea what is going on higher up there,” said a Korean-Chinese businessman from Yenben, “but it certainly looks like China and Russia are trying to win Pyongyang to their sides, like the old days.”

UPDATE 1 (2008-1-27): A Russian delegation is in the DPRK to discuss upgrading the 55km railway from the Raijin port to the Russian border. According to the report:

Russian officials have visited North Korea to discuss modernizing the 55-kilometer (34-mile) line between Rajin and Russia’s Khasan. Rajin is also referred to as Najin in South Korea.

A Russian railway spokesman told Agence France-Presse last week a preliminary agreement had been reached with North Korea on renovating the railway section, while North Korea had yet to respond to Russia’s proposal to build a cargo terminal in Rajin.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has expressed interest in connecting the Rajin-Khasan line to the Trans-Siberian Railway.

Last year, North Korea reportedly agreed to open Rajin further to foreign ships in an attempt to make it a regional transport hub.

South Korea sees the port project as an efficient alternative to renovating dilapidated rail networks running the length of North Korea and linking them to the Russian railway.

Reconstruction of North Korea’s railways would cost about 2.5 billion dollars, according to Russian estimates.

China has also expressed an interest in securing access to Rajin’s port. According to the Joong Ang Daily:

Beijing also has its eye on the North Korean port, which it envisions as part of its grand design to build a transport network that stretches from the Indian Ocean to the North Pacific.

“Najin Port is near the Jilin area and China’s own ports in the area have already reached their full capacity,” a government official said yesterday.

Beijing has recently notified Pyongyang that it is willing to spend $1 billion to develop port facilities, build railroads connecting the port to China and improve existing infrastructure such as highways, the official said.

In a report published earlier this year, Cho Myung-chul, a researcher at the Korea Institute for International Economic Policy, predicted that China would use investments in the North’s ports and railroads to extend its own infrastructure for export and import purposes. China has made similar investments in Burma and Bangladesh, among others.

ORIGINAL POST (2006-10-25): Russia announces plans to connect DPRK to Trans Siberian Railway.  According to Bloomberg (excerpt):

OAO Russian Railways, the state-run monopoly led by Putin confidant Vladimir Yakunin, is planning to complete a rail line crossing the North Korean-Russian border. While the project doesn’t violate United Nations sanctions on North Korea, it shows Putin’s drive to expand Russian influence.

“The railway is a symbol of Russia’s power in the region,” said Charles Armstrong, director of the Center for Korean Research at Columbia University in New York. “Russia has been trying to get back into the game in Northeast Asia since the collapse of the Soviet Union. The railway is one way.”

The Soviet Union backed communist North Korea throughout the Cold War with cheap oil and anti-American ideology. When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, North Korea lost its subsidies and had to watch as capitalist Russia improved relations with rival South Korea. Today Russia enjoys close diplomatic relations with both Korean states.

“The Korean peninsula, both south and north, is more favorably disposed toward economic cooperation with Russia because Koreans see it as a more benign force than China and Japan,” said Selig Harrison, a North Korea specialist at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington.

The 19-kilometer (12-mile) North Korean-Russian border, which cuts off northeastern China from a direct outlet to the sea, gives Russia a strategic wedge in a region dominated by China and Japan. One day, that border may be used not only to ship out Asian goods to Europe by land, but to pump natural gas to South Korea by pipeline as Russia strives to ship one-third of its oil and gas exports to Asia, up from 3 percent.

Putin and Kim agreed to revive North Korea’s link to the Trans-Siberian Railway in August 2001, after Kim made his first train journey from Pyongyang to Moscow.

The idea was to connect the South Korean port of Pusan with western Europe, by way of North Korea and then on to the 10,000- kilometer (6,200-mile) breadth of Russia. The route may become a major transportation line, challenging maritime routes through the Suez Canal by cutting the travel time in half and trimming costs by up to 75 percent.

‘Iron Silk Road’

Then-President Kim Dae Jung of South Korea, who was pursuing closer engagement with North Korea through his “Sunshine Policy,” strongly backed the project, dubbed “the Iron Silk Road.”

Despite delays over financing and feasibility, Russian Railways is keeping the $2.5-billion project alive. Railroad chief Yakunin said in July that refurbishment of the 40- kilometer stretch linking the North Korean port of Rajin to the Russian border town of Khasan would be complete by the end of the year.

Even after North Korea’s nuclear-bomb test, Yakunin traveled to Seoul to press South Korea to guarantee the freight that would make the Eurasian rail link economically viable.

Neighbors

Yakunin, Putin’s neighbor in an elite dacha settlement outside St. Petersburg, is viewed as a dark-horse presidential candidate for 2008. In January, the two men were seen attending Orthodox Christmas mass together.

Yakunin didn’t reply to questions directed to his spokesman Mikhail Goncharov.

Russian exports to North Korea rose 78 percent to $206 million in 2004, the last year the Korean Trade Investment Promotion Agency published figures. Russia still comes in a distant third behind China and South Korea in terms of trade with North Korea.

The idea of linking Korea with Europe goes back 70 years, to when the peninsula was a Japanese colony.

“‘Pusan to Paris’ was a Japanese slogan in the 1930s and something the South Koreans have now taken up,” said Armstrong. The main barrier to the project now, he said, was the reclusive North Korean leadership’s reluctance to open its borders.

‘Symmetry of Interests’

“If there’s any symmetry of interests, it’s between Russia and South Korea,” Armstrong said. “They have the most in common in how they envision development of the region.”

A significant part of that development is Russia’s growing role in Asia as an energy supplier.

Russia is building an oil pipeline across eastern Siberia to the Pacific and is planning two gas pipelines to China. Developments on Sakhalin Island, just north of Japan, are opening up additional energy resources nearby.

A pipeline with Sakhalin gas that would follow the path of the railway into North Korea has been under consideration by OAO Gazprom, Russia’s state-run, gas-export monopoly.

“Russia’s ability to project its economic power, especially through oil and gas pipelines, would be greatly enhanced if political tensions between the Koreas declined and they moved to unification,” Harrison said.

Even the railway, Russia’s most advanced infrastructure project in North Korea, may be thwarted by the unpredictability of Kim Jong Il.

“The risks are too high,” said Alexander Lukin, director of the Center for East Asian Studies at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations. “All this can be discussed only in a united Korea, after a serious change in regime.”

Read the full story below:
Russia Uses Railway to Expand Role in North Korea
Bloomberg
Lucian Kim
10/25/2006

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