Archive for the ‘Transportation’ Category

South Korea, North Korea and Russia discuss railway cooperation

Sunday, July 15th, 2018

Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Trilateral cooperation discussions on the cross-peninsular railway happened in Rason despite Russia’s earlier cancellation:

A group of representatives from South Korea’s presidential panel returned home Sunday after a trip to North Korea, where they discussed possible trilateral economic cooperation involving the two Koreas and Russia, its official said.

The Presidential Committee on Northern Economic Cooperation sent an 11-member team led by committee chairman Song Young-gil to the North’s northeastern border region of Rason. They stayed there for two days from Friday.

The team originally planned to attend a seminar hosted by Russia to discuss trilateral economic cooperation involving the two Koreas and Russia but canceled its participation. Instead it had discussions with North Koreans and Russians on the Rajin-Khasan project and other issues, the official said.

Rason, formerly known as Rajin and Sonbong, was designated as a special economic zone in 1991. The North has sought to develop the zone by drawing outside investment but faced setbacks amid its continued provocations.

The Rajin-Khasan project, in particular, is a logistics project aimed at transporting coal from Russia to the North by using a 54 km-long railway linking Khasan in Russia to the Rajin port of North Korea and then to South Korea by ship.

There have been test operations of the transport route three times, including the latest one in November 2015.

The trilateral cooperation project, however, has been put on hold as South Korea banned maritime transport from the North in early 2016 in the wake of the North’s nuclear and missile provocations.

South Korea and the United States have said that full-fledged economic cooperation with the North should wait until it carries out its promised “complete denuclearization.”

“The Rajin-Khasan project is not subject to U.N. sanctions but to sanctions imposed by the U.S. So we plan to draw up and propose a broad picture and make preparations for joint study until there is progress in denuclearization and discussion begins on lifting those sanctions,” the panel official said.

Article source:
Presidential panel discusses Rajin-Khasan cooperation during trip to N.K.
Yonhap News
2018-07-15

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Two Koreas agree on railway improvements

Wednesday, June 27th, 2018

Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

AP reports on talks between North and South Korea to improve North Korean railways, including a great overview of current railway systems in the country:

North Korea’s state media on Wednesday acknowledged inter-Korean discussions on “issues arising in reconnecting, updating and using the railways on the east and west coasts,” but did not describe that South Korea would be sending officials and experts to examine the country’s aging rail system.

The agreement Tuesday to start joint inspections of North Korea’s railways on July 24 was apparently as far as the rivals could go at the moment. The vows to upgrade the North’s railways and roads will remain purely aspirational until international sanctions against North Korea are lifted and the South is freed to take material steps.

The talks at the border village of Panmunjom were the latest to discuss ways to carry out peace commitments made by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in.

During their April 27 summit, when they issued a vague commitment to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula, Kim and Moon expressed a desire to modernize North Korea’s railways and roads and reconnect them with the South. The Koreas are to hold another meeting on Thursday to discuss roads.

South Korean officials say better transport would greatly improve North Korea’s economy by facilitating trade and tourism. It may also provide the South with cheaper ways to move goods in and out of China and Russia. However, some experts say updating North Korean trains, which creak slowly along rails that were first laid in the early 20th century, would require a massive effort that could take decades and tens of billions of dollars. It might be impossible to embark on such projects unless North Korea denuclearizes, which isn’t a sure thing.

THE WEST SIDE

In their summit, Kim and Moon called for “practical steps” toward the “connection and modernization” of railways and roads between South Korea’s capital, Seoul, and North Korea’s Sinuiju, a port town on its border with China, and also along the peninsula’s “eastern transportation corridor.”

During the meeting on April 27, Kim went against the grain of North Korean propaganda by describing the country’s transport conditions as poor and praising South Korea’s bullet train system, clearly communicating an eagerness to improve his country’s rail networks, according to comments provided by South Korea’s presidential office.

In Tuesday’s meeting, the Koreas agreed to start inspections of the North Korean portion of a railway that once connected Seoul and Sinuiju before moving on to railways in the eastern region.

Japan completed a 499-kilometer (310-mile) railway line connecting Seoul and Sinuiju in 1906, mainly to move soldiers and military supplies, before it annexed the peninsula in 1910. The Gyeongui line was separated in 1945 at the end of World War II, when the peninsula was liberated from Japanese colonial rule but also divided between a U.S.-controlled southern side and a Soviet-controlled north. The peninsula remains in a technical state of war after the 1950-53 Korean War ended in an armistice, not a peace treaty.

The Gyeongui line was temporarily reconnected during a previous era of rapprochement between the rivals in the 2000s. The Koreas in December 2007 began freight services between South Korea’s Munsan Station in Paju and North Korea’s Pongdong Station, which is near the border town of Kaesong. The South used the trains to move construction materials northbound, while clothing and shoes manufactured from a factory park jointly operated by the Koreas in Kaesong were sent southbound.

The line was cut again in November 2008 due to political tensions over North Korea’s nuclear program and the hard-line policies of a new conservative government in Seoul.

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THE EAST SIDE

Japan during its colonial rule completed a 193-kilometer (120-mile) rail line between North Korea’s Anbyon county and South Korea’s Yangyang along the peninsula’s eastern coast in 1937. The Koreas temporarily reconnected the cross-border part of the line between 2007 and 2008 to move South Korean tourists in and out of the North’s scenic Diamond Mountain resort. However, the project never advanced beyond a trial run before South Korea pulled out in June 2008 amid worsening ties.

South Korea has ambitions to significantly extend the eastern “Donghae” line so that it connects its southernmost port of Busan with North Korea’s northernmost industrial cities of Chongjin and Rajin. Seoul hopes the line will eventually link South Korea with Russia and the trans-Siberian railway. South Korea also hopes to eventually reopen a railway between Seoul and North Korea’s eastern coastal town of Wonsan which ran through the middle of the peninsula.

Article source:
Koreas agree to improve North’s railways, but work must wait
Kim Tong-Hyung
AP News
2018-06-27

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Kim Jong-un’s Wonsan boat at Tae-do in 2017

Monday, April 9th, 2018

With Planet Labs imagery, we are able to get improved and affordable access to some remote places in North Korea which allows us to keep better track of changes than is possible with just Google Earth or Google Maps. Here is a small example…

Analysis of the North Korean media indicates that Kim Jong-un spends a lot of time in Wonsan. As we all know, he has a family compound there that was visited by Dennis Rodman and his delegation. At this compound, we can observe several unique boats that are only seen in Wonsan (pictured below).

Kim Jong-un also stores some of these at a separate maintenance facility in central Wonsan (with some other boats that are at his disposal):

There are five of these particular boats as far as I am aware. They are approximately 50m-60m in length. From satellite imagery, it appears they are mostly differentiated by the amount of cover they provide. They may each offer different services, but I have not been able to see many ground-level photos of these boats. As best I can tell, they are not self-propelled and have to be pulled to new locations.

 

  

Based on Google Earth imagery I was under the impression that these deck boats were simply transferred back and forth between the two locations mentioned above (Kim compound and storage facility), but with planet imagery, we can see that they are used more widely.

According to imagery form Planet Labs, two of these deck boats were deployed to Tae-do in the summer of 2017.

The first boat shows up in Planet Labs imagery of Tae-ri (below) on May 24, 2017, and it is visible until August 30, 2017.

The second boat appears in Planet Labs imagery at the same location on September 7, 2017 and is gone by September 13, 2017.

So it appears (superficially) that either Kim Jong-un left one of his leisure craft docked off the island to use whenever he felt like “getting away,” or perhaps it is being used by senior personnel in the military as a “perk.”

As for the island itself, Kim is never reported to have made a guidance visit to it. It is most well known for hosting a small naval ship repair unit, so there may always be some service personnel within view of the boat.

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Pyongyang Bike Share

Wednesday, March 28th, 2018

UPDATE 1 (2018-3-30): A couple of recent visitors to North Korea have reached out to claim that the bike service still has yet to be put into use. I will update this post when I learn more.

ORIGINAL POST (2018-3-26):

 

Pictured Above (Russian Embassy): Two bike rental stations on Kwangbok Street and the Taehung Bicycle Rental and Storage Station (대흥 자전거 임대소 보관소) on Youth Street.

The Pyongyang Times (2018-3-8) has published an article on the new Pyongyang bike share program:

People riding brightly-coloured bikes along Kwangbok Street present an unusual scene in Mangyongdae District, Pyongyang.

Small yet cosy stations with blue roofs are seen in several places of the street, with lines of cute bicycles arranged and people bustling especially at rush hours.

They are part of service centres run by the Pyongyang bike-sharing company.

This year the company has started the bike rental service.

An online service management system, the bike-sharing system is expected to be one of the favoured public traffic service systems.

Customers need to buy cards to hire bikes at any of the stations.

They can pass the cards through card readers at any stations, input passwords to unlock the bikes and use them. They pay fees when they return them to any of the stations.

Bike-sharing is an environment-friendly and energy-saving service that suits the local conditions as it helps reduce urban pollution by vehicles and save fuel.

The stations generate electricity needed for service activities by utilizing solar energy.

“Bike-sharing is widely adopted by many countries as part of global efforts to reduce pollution,” said Myong Si Man, director of the company. “Our system helps not only satisfy the growing demand for traffic means but also promote public health. We plan to widen the coverage of bike-sharing service to other parts of the city and upgrade the method of service.”

Riding bike is good for health and some elders in the district share bikes just for an exercise, he added.

Stylish Ryomyong-brand bikes are helpful to ensuring clean environment of Pyongyang and providing convenience for passengers. It now adds a special touch of beauty to the city.

This is not the first mention in the North Korean media. In July of last year Tongil News reported the first bikes were brought in to the rental stations on the 1st of July 2017 and services were due to begin in late July 2017. According to this South Korean source, however, the service did not actually begin until January 15, 2018 (consistent with the claim in this PY Times article).

According to Tongil News,  the bikes are called Ryomyong (려명) bikes and come from a North Korean/Chinese joint venture called Phyongjin Bicycle Cooperative Company (평진자전거합영회사) located in Sosong District (서성구역), Pyongyang. The payment cards needed to rent the bikes are called Ryomyong Cards and need to be bought with a Jonsong Card at one of the five locations on Kwangbok-street. The overall operation is overseen by the Pyongyang Bicycle Rental Office (평양자전거임대관리소).

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Namyang’s post 2016 flood recovery

Wednesday, March 21st, 2018

New Google Earth imagery shows for the first time the scale of the construction work taken in Namyang District of Onsong County in North Hamgyong Province.

In September of 2016, areas of North Korea along the Tumen River experienced severe devastation from flooding. One of these areas was Namyang, across the river from the Chinese city of Tumen.

Here are Planet Labs images that give a sense of the scale of the damage during the flood:

August 28, 2016

September 7, 2016

September 17, 2016

Here are Google Earth images of Namyang before and after the flooding:

This construction project was monitored from China. Here are a couple of the pictures that were taken (Photo Credit: Getty)

 

Looking at the satellite imagery of the renovated Namyang, there are a few interesting changes. First, the Namyang market was destroyed in the flood and I am not sure where the new one is (or if there is a new one).

Second, a small revolutionary site was moved farther from the river so it will not be washed away again:

Third, we can see construction of the new Namyang-Tumen Bridge underway (but apparently stalled):

The image on the left is 2015-9-13. The image on the right is 2018-1-31. The new bridge is approximately 510m in length and will be able to support traffic in both directions simultaneously.  It is the third border bridge to be renovated/built after the Dandong-Sinuiju Bridge and the Rason-Hunchun (Quanhe-Wonjong) Bridge. This bridge was announced in 2014 and was supposed to be completed by 2016.

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The Pyongyang Trolley Bus Factory manufactures new model

Tuesday, March 20th, 2018

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)

Having been upgraded and modernized, the Pyongyang Trolley Bus Factory, a company located in the Pyongchon district of Pyongyang and a manufacturer of one of the most typical means of public transportation in the capital of North Korea, is accelerating the production of a new type of vehicle, the Tokyo-based Choson Sinbo reported from Pyongyang on March 15.

According to the Tongil News report on March 15, the factory has been recently turning out the basic model of connected trolley buses known as the Chollima-091, which can accommodate a large number of passengers.

However, the company has newly introduced the Chollima-316, a smaller trolley bus compared to the older Chollima-091 model. The Chollima-316 has a smaller passenger capacity, but they are designed for safer operation and greater passenger comfort.

The new trolley buses have 24 seats with a boarding capacity of 80 passengers, although are said to be able to accommodate a maximum of 120 people if needed.

The Pyongyang Trolley Bus Factory is also said to have developed and introduced a new type of electric motor, which is said to assure the stable operation of the trolley buses even at low voltage.

Reportedly, the new motor allows for a power savings of up to 40 percent compared to the old model, along with substantial reduction in vibration and noise. Other features include a lower first step for passengers’ boarding convenience.

Last year, for the first time in North Korea, the factory developed and completed a test run of a trolley bus equipped with a dual power system that runs on both battery and electricity.

Having the battery as a power source ensures that the bus can operate even in contingencies such as a blackout, disconnected wire, or road accident.

Accompanied by his wife Ri Sol-ju, Chairman Kim Jong-un visited the factory in early February this year and rode the Chollima-316 trolley during a test drive. He reportedly commented after the ride that “Having taken a ride in the trolley, I felt comfortable and have faith in it.” He was also impressed with its features. “It has good shock absorbers, is free of vibration and noise, and it has a good speed,” he added.

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A small update on the Nampho leadership boat

Thursday, March 1st, 2018

Contemporary North Korea watchers (including myself) first noticed this boat in a Google Earth satellite image dated 2015-10-4. I mentioned it in articles for RFA (2016-2-3) and NK News.

A check of historical imagery of the Nampho area also reveals the boat docked there on 2013-11-4.

The boat is quite large (appx 50m in length). At the time of publication, I speculated that it might be stored at a large boat house in north-eastern Pyongyang with some other leadership boats. Though this is the largest boat house I am aware of on the Taedong River, I am still not sure if this is the case.

 

Subsequent imagery shows the boat berthed on Chol-do at KPA Navy Unit 123 (2016-5-31).

Despite the boat’s size, it does not appear on any other public (Google Earth) satellite imagery as far as I am aware.

Although its current purpose remains a mystery, it was recently featured on KCTV. According to the footage, the boat is actually quite old, and it used to be one of Kim Il-sung’s.

So despite only being recently “discovered” by the open source community, the boat appears to have been around for some time, and it does not appear to violate the UNSC prohibition on the export of luxury goods to North Korea. It may be one of Kim Jong-un’s boats (he may have inherited it), but it is possible it has been “handed down” to some other agency (for use by senior navy personnel for example) at some point when the Kim family upgraded their transportation options. The evidence for this latter theory is that the boat’s location does not coincide with any of Kim Jong-un’s guidance trips. However, this is not definitive evidence since Kim makes public appearances that are not reported in the official media, or are reported to have taken place on different days than they actually occurred.

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Kim Jong-un visits the Pyongyang Trolley Bus Factory

Thursday, February 1st, 2018

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)

Kim Jong-un, chairman of North Korea’s State Affairs Commission, provided on-the-spot “field guidance” to the newly reconstructed Pyongyang Trolley Bus Factory, as reported by the Rodong Sinmun on February 1.

In accordance with Chairman Kim’s instructions and under the direction of the Pyongyang Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) committee, the officials and workers of the Capital Passengers Traffic Bureau, the Pyongyang Trolley Bus Factory and the city government of Pyongyang have completed the construction of twelve new buildings and renovation of four other buildings, Rodong Sinmun said. Having completed the modernization, the factory is said to have started production in earnest.

Touring various areas of the factory, including the processing, electric motor, final assembly and overhaul shops, Kim was briefed about “modernization and production” in detail. He also inspected the new type of trolley bus manufactured by the factor. He went on to praise the factory officials and workers: “It is great that you have achieved more than 92 percent of localization in producing modern equipment and repairing broken facilities. It is also a great achievement you can be proud of that you have enabled the remote controlling of the trolley assembly process, automated the heat treatment process, and reduced labor and power input more than before by adopting power-saving devices.”

Kim also declared that, as a means of transportation, the trolley bus “should be made the face of Pyongyang, the capital [of this country].” He also stated his intention to “turn the Pyongyang Trolley Bus Factory into a world-class trolley production base,” presenting it as a goal for the second-phase modernization.

The leadership praises the Pyongyang Trolley Bus Factory for having established an integrated production system to maximum benefits in the production and management activities by introducing advanced technology to meet the needs of building a knowledge-based economy.

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North Korea opens its first toll expressway

Thursday, January 18th, 2018

 

Pictures above via @EricTalmadge (Jan 26, 2018)

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)

According to the Russian embassy in Pyongyang, starting January 20, 2018, North Korea will begin collecting tolls on the expressway between Pyongyang and Wonsan—a first time for the country to collect such tolls.

According to the Seoul-Pyongyang News, the Russian embassy explained in its Facebook on January 17 that it would be “the first time for the North Korean drivers to pay 8 euros (equivalent to 10,450 won in the South Korean currency) to take the Pyongyang-Wonsan Tourist Motorway.”

This recently resurfaced motorway first opened in September 1978, connecting Wonsan (Kangwon province) on the east and Pyongyang City on the west.

The recent photos provided by the embassy reveal an electronic payment station collecting the toll at the entrance of the expressway. They also reveal a map showing the Pyongchon Kwangmyong Technology Exchange Station, where drivers can purchase (or recharge) electronic payment cards and Mirae electronic cards issued by Mirae Bank.

In the meantime, more than one foreign diplomat in Pyongyang said that the North Korean authorities had sent a letter to the foreign missions and the representatives of international organizations in Pyongyang on January 15 to inform them of the new policy, Radio Free Asia reported.

Another Western diplomat in Pyongyang, who wanted to remain anonymous, said that the letter included the highway toll policy and detailed regulations, which explained that it would cost about 8 euros (0.02 euro per kilometer) or about USD10 for a total of 194 kilometers round trip between Pyongyang and Wonsan (or 3.88 euro for one way), if one is traveling by ordinary passenger car. However, large-sized buses will be charged a toll of about 27 euros for a roundtrip—Pyongyang to Wonsan and back—or 13.58 euros for a one-way trip.

The new tolls are expected to be applied to not only foreign residents in Pyongyang, such as diplomats and the agents of international organizations, but also the general public.

UPDATE: Here are most of the images posted by the Russian Embassy Facebook Page:

The toll fees are being managed by “Mirae Bank”. Mirae Bank Cards are available on Mirae Street.

 

This is the first toll booth outside of Pyongyang:

 

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North Korea announces “Naenara” brand vehicles

Monday, January 15th, 2018

UPDATE 1 (2018-1-15): Martin Weiser notified me that the Korean version of the article includes the company information (Note to readers: When doing research using the North Korean media, look for the original Korean article!).

The company that produces the Naenara vehicles is the Chongpung JVC (AKA 청풍합영회사/Chongphung)–and it looks like they have been around for a while. You can download a video of the 13th Pyongyang Spring Trade Fair (held in 2012) here, and in the video you can see Chongphung JVC participating.

You can download a video on Chongpung as well that shows a variety of vehicles and foodstuffs they produce. Martin Weiser also posted a picture of their vehicles on Twitter:

ORIGINAL POST: The North Korean news portal “Naenara” announced “Naenara” brand vehicles over the weekend.


The news portal does not reveal much information on the vehicles:

Naenara-brand Rolling Stock

Types: Cars, small- and medium-size buses and small trucks

Technical specifications:

− Fuel consumption: 42 – 50g/km (for cars and buses), 58g/km (for trucks)

− Maximum speed: 120 – 180km/h

− Maximum output: 55 – 80kW

The Naenara-brand rolling stock consumes low fuel, and has air-conditioner, servosteering function and motor-windows.

They are equipped with such control systems as motor-driven exterior rear view mirroring, start-stop, and backward alarm systems.

I did a quick check to see if these vehicles may simply be re-branded Pyeonghwa Motors vehicles,  but I could not find any matches.

I have not seen any new vehicle factories appear in the North Korean media, so I assume an existing vehicle factory has launched a new product line. It is possible that a military vehicle factory has launched a new product for the civilian economy.

Very little data as of now, however, so we will have to wait and see. If any tourists or visitors spot these cars, please take a picture of them (the marketing pics are all computer generated).

Fuel availability, especially for the civilian economy, has been a topic of interest by outside observers in the last year as UNSC resolutions have sought to restrict imports from abroad.

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