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): 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.
UPDATE 13 (2014-4-8): 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: