Archive for the ‘Railways’ Category

Railways Profit on “donju” cash

Thursday, March 5th, 2015

According to the Daily NK:

The North Korean railway system, a popular form of public transportation, is the latest mechanism through which the authorities are raking in profits. Railway officials are charging more than 100 times the regular state price for tickets on the most popular routes– a move specifically targeting the donju [new affluent middle class] and their money.

“Following orders handed down from the Ministry of Railways, diesel engines started towing train cars at the beginning this year, allowing the trains to run on time,“ a source in North Hamkyung Province reported to Daily NK on March 4th. “Previously it was hard to operate the 23~24 trains, which run between Pyongyang and Chongjin, due to shortages of electricity. However, this problem was solved by utilizing diesel engines that replaced the electric trains.”

He went on to explain that diesel engines, free from reliance on electricity, allow trains to depart and arrive on time despite shortages in power. Needless to say, this reliable option is extremely popular, particularly among those reliant on them to do business, which the railways are using to their advantage by charging exorbitant fees for their services.

“A limited number of tickets for these trains are sold in the official railway offices for 1,300 KPW [10 RMB] to regular customers. But it’s all a facade. Behind the scenes, dozens of women are being mobilized to sell tickets for 100 times the actual price,” he said. “It’s already difficult enough for most travelers to purchase tickets for a train bound for Chongjin from Pyongyang, and now the only real option is to get them on the black market, where the cost is exponentially higher.”

In this burgeoning black market arena, ticket prices have skyrocketed 100 RMB [135,000 KPW] and make up 80% of total sales; only 20% of ticket sales take place at official train station ticketing offices. Areas surrounding the stations are filled with female brokers selling tickets, who, according to the source, constantly holler out, “Get your ticket for the express train—100 RMB!”

For the donju, trains serve as an integral part of their business operations–and time is money. “Trains other than the Pyongyang-Chongjin train take more than fifteen days to travel 800 km,” the source explained. “Late last month, it took a 9~10 train from Pyongyang bound for Musan twenty days to arrive at its destination.”

The 7~8 train, which runs from Pyongyang to the Tumen River, was originally an international express bound to Russia, while the 9~10 train transported civil servants to various locations for international business trips. The 23~24 train, however, is the most widely used train in modern North Korea, designated specifically for business purposes since the proliferation of market activity at the start of the 21st century.

Read the full story here:
Railways Profit on Donju Cash
Daily NK
Choi Song Min
2015-3-5

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Russian investment into DPRK railway

Sunday, October 26th, 2014

Most of Russia’s current investment in the DPRK has been limited to Rason: Rason Port, Rason-Russia Railway. But there has been movement in bilateral relations this year.

In March of 2014, the North Koreans and the Russians announced bilateral trade would be conducted in Rubles and they discussed additional economic opportunitiesInter-Korean transportation, gas pipeline, and the Kaesong Industrial Complex.

On October 20, 2014, ITAR TASS reported the following:

Russian construction compnay NPO Mostovik has developed a plan of designing and upgrading railways and ore enriching plants, as well as developing and processing natural resources in North Korea, CEO Vladimir Shishov told PRIME on Monday.

“These are two interconnected and quite complex processes. But the NPO has lots of experience in designing, and we will promote our experience and technologies in this region,” Shishov said.

About 7,000 kilometers of North Korean railways require modernization, and 3,500 kilometers of them must be modernized urgently.

North Korea “has a large industrial and economic potential, the realization of which requires solving infrastructural problems.” Without the development of railways and roads and electrification, “it is impossible to solve the whole range of tasks, connected with the development of North Korea’s economy,” he said.

KCNA followed up on October 23:

Talks Held between DPRK Minister of External Economic Relations and Minister of Development of Far East of Russia

Pyongyang, October 23 (KCNA) — Talks between Minister of External Economic Relations Ri Ryong Nam who doubles as chairman of the DPRK side to the Inter-Governmental Committee for Cooperation in Trade, Economy, Science and Technology between the DPRK and Russia and Minister of Development of Far East of Russia Alexandr Galushka who doubles as chairman of the Russian side to the committee were held here on Thursday.

Present there from the DPRK side were Ju Jae Dok, vice-minister of Railways, and officials concerned and from the opposite side were the party of the minister of Development of Far East, Alexandr Timonin, Russian ambassador to the DPRK, and a staff member of his embassy.

Discussed at the talks were the issues of boosting the economic and trade cooperation between the two countries.

And on October 26:

Delegation of Ministry of Railways Back Home

Pyongyang, October 26 (KCNA) — The delegation of the Ministry of Railways led by Minister Jon Kil Su returned home Sunday after taking part in an international seminar held in Sochi, Russia.

However, while North Korea’s foreign minister and railway minister were in Russia, the North Koreans and Russians held a ground-breaking ceremony to announce the rebuilding of the Jaedong-Kangdong-Nampho railway line. According to KCNA:

A ground-breaking ceremony of rebuilding the section of Jaedong-Kangdong-Nampho railway stations took place at East Pyongyang Railway Station Tuesday.

Present there were Minister of External Economic Relations Ri Ryong Nam who doubles as chairman of the DPRK side to the Inter-Governmental Committee for Cooperation in Trade, Economy, Science and Technology between the DPRK and Russia, officials concerned and working people in the city.

Also on hand were Minister of Development of Far East of Russia Alexandr Galushka who doubles as chairman of the Russian side to the Inter-Governmental Committee for Cooperation in Trade, Economy, Science and Technology between the DPRK and Russia, and his party, Alexandr Timonin, Russian ambassador to the DPRK, staff members of his embassy and foreign diplomatic envoys here.

Oleg Shishov, director general of the Russian Bridzh Group, and Won Phil Jong, senior vice-minister of Railways of the DPRK, made speeches at the ceremony.

They said that they were pleased that the ceremony of weighty significance in economic development between the two countries was being held in Pyongyang this year marking the 66th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the DPRK and Russia.

The project for remodeling railways, the first stage of realizing the large-scale cooperation project which is in line with the common development and interests of the peoples of the two countries, marked an important occasion in developing economic cooperation between the two countries, they noted.

Alexandr Galushka and Ri Ryong Nam made congratulatory speeches.

They said that Marshal Kim Jong Un is paying deep attention to boosting the bilateral friendly relations.

The relations of economic cooperation between the two countries are growing stronger with each passing day, they said, hoping for bigger successes in the work to develop the bilateral cooperative relations in the future, too.

A reception was given that day.

According to supplementary information in Yonhap:

A Russian broadcaster earlier reported that Pyongyang and Moscow signed a US$25 billion deal to modernize a combined 3,500-kilometer stretch of railways in North Korea. If confirmed, it would cover 60-70 percent of the North’s railways.

Russia Beyond the Headlines reports the following information:

The implementation of the Russian-North Korean project Pobeda (Victory) will make it possible for North Korea to start exporting metallurgical coal in 2015, one of the participants in the project, LLC NPO Mostovik CEO Oleg Shishov believes.

“We’re already discussing this with the North Korean government, that everything will go to [third countries], and they agree. The volume is tens of millions of tonnes at the initial stage, and then we’ll see. Let’s take the first step,” Shishov told reporters.

He said the North Korea stands out by its almost complete absence of sulfur. “This is a very important indicator for metallurgical production, particularly for production of high quality steels,” Shishov said.

“Mining is already underway there, only with such methods that little is being mined. the methods are very inefficient, unproductive. Modern mining equipment will be delivered there and this will increase production manifold. The reserves there are huge,” Shishov said.

He did not specify who would be investing in the development of North Korean coal fields or the countries that would be importing the coal.

Russia and North Korea are now beginning to implement the Pobeda project, which calls for the development of mineral resources and comprehensive reconstruction of North Korea’s railway network. A number of Russian companies are participating in the project, including Mostovik. The other participants have not been named.

Here is a Google Earth image of the proposed train route:

Jaenam-Nampho-Railway-GE

The total length of this route is approximately 175km.

Here is the proposed route relative to other railway lines in the area:

Railway-line-vs-whole-railway

The obvious interpretation of the image is that the railway renovations will be used to facilitate coal exports. Jaenam Station exclusively serves the Sinchang Youth Coal Mine under the Sunchon Area Youth Coal Mine Complex Enterprise. Additoinally, the area surrounding Jaenam Station is doimated by coal mines. The Kangdong Station is not in the town of Kangdong, but just to the east where it services the Kangdong Area Coal Mine Complex Enterprise. Coal in these areas will supposedly be carried more efficiently to the port of Nampho where a coal terminal already exists.

Nampho-coal-port

If indeed this is the primary purpose of the project, then the obvious loser will be China (on multiple fronts). Currently Chinese state-owned mining companies are the only serious investors in North Korea’s extraction industries. Because of their unique relationship with and proximity to the DPRK, they are able to purchase coal and other resources at a bargain price (monopsony). North Korea can only strengthen its bargaining position with these companies by finding other buyers of its produce. Russia’s investment could help them accomplish this goal.

However there are two domestically-related uses that renovation of this railway route could facilitate.

The first is domestic steel production. Russian sources highlight the importance of sulfur-free coal for the production of steel, and this railway line passes directly by the Chollima Steel Mill, one of the largest smelters in the country. Increased steel production has long been a goal of North Korea’s economic policymakers going back to the “heavy-industry” days of the 1950s. With a renovated railway track that connects the correct kind of coal with Chollima Steel Mill, the DPRK may be able to produce more steel for both domestic use or for export.

A second potential domestic use could be the increase in energy supply to Pyongyang. As I highlighted in 38 North, the DPRK is constructing a new coal power plant in Kangdong. This new power plant, as well as the Pyongyang and East Pyongyang Thermal Power Plants lie along the Jaenam-Nampho line. Increased coal supplies to these mills could have significant impact on power supply in Pyongyang.

Are there any other potential uses? Maybe, but these are more difficult to see right now and may only become evident at a later date. After examining the composition of facilities along the track between Pyongyang and Jaenam, I cannot identify any other specific industries that may benefit, other than potential military factories that lie along the route. These, of course, are worth of examination, but I am not the most qualified to carry that out.

On November 6, 38 North Published this article on DPRK-Russia relations.

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North Korea’s Ministry of External Economic Affairs stresses business at economic development zones is gaining momentum

Friday, October 10th, 2014

Institute for Far Easter Studies (IFES)

In a September 29, 2014 interview by the Choson Sinbo, Director of North Korea’s Ministry of External Economic Affairs, Oh Tae Bong, reported that business in North Korea’s newly established economic development zones (EDZ) is gradually being ramped up. In the interview, Oh mentioned the Jindo Export Processing Zone in Nampo City as an example where foreign investment capital is being prepared for the construction of substructure facilities such as piers and power plants and factories for heavy industry like cement and steel.

The Jindo Export Processing Zone carries out technology transfers and exports completed industrial products to foreign countries. Specifically, Secretary Oh emphasized, “Several countries have expressed great interest in the Jindo Export Processing Zone, and investment contracts have already been signed with a few targets such as Hong Kong.” If the Jindo Export Processing Zone succeeds, it is expected that more processing zones will be developed around the country. If development goes smoothly, the structure of primary export products, including underground resources, would change drastically and promote product diversification.

Secretary Oh also talked about the results achieved through economic cooperation with neighboring countries, saying, “Our nation is consulting with Russian governmental organizations regarding the cooperation issues experienced with railroad reconstruction and modernization.” He mentions that certain agreements have already been made in August 2014, and commented that “Relations between two countries have great effect on foreign economic activity, such as investments.” In other words, despite the US and UN imposed economic sanctions against North Korea, Russia has taken an active stance toward economic cooperation with North Korea.

With regards to the Ministry of External Economic Affairs (formerly the Ministry of Foreign Trade), Director Oh explained that the ministry was newly reorganized in June 2014 to expand the state’s foreign economic activities. According to Oh, the ministry will contribute to the strengthening of economic ties between nations, and take unified command over trade, joint ventures, attraction of foreign capital, and economic development zones.

More specifically, Secretary Oh stated that “Since the Ministry of Trade, the Joint Venture and Investment Commission, and State Economic Development Committee have all been combined into one body responsible for foreign economic enterprises, business complexity has disappeared and unity has been secured.” It is said that, first, the process procedures necessary in economic trade activities have been simplified. Second, the combining of various departments among the three committees into one single organization has improved work efficiency. Finally, the agency-centered system has disappeared, allowing for a much more efficient foreign economic industry.

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2014 Inter-Korean development plans

Tuesday, August 19th, 2014

According to the Daily NK:

The Ministry of Unification released its plans for the 2014 Inter-Korean Development Program on August 18th. 96 new enterprises are among the proposals stipulated in the report’s 30 articles.

The chief components of the plan include:

1. the establishment of a channel for consistent Inter-Korean dialogue
2. a solution for the Separated Families issue
3. provision of humanitarian aid geared towards North Korean citizens
4. adherence to international regulations through a cooperative exchange system
5. the restoration of national solidarity through sociocultural exchanges
6. expanding other ongoing inter-Korean economic collaboration projects
7. normalization of Kaesong Industrial Park operations and
8. tailoring refugee resettlement funds to individual defector needs.

In a statement about the plan, a Ministry of Unification official said, “There is much significance in the fact that this proposal was a government-wide effort; a total of 24 administrative bodies came together to formulate these ideas and strategies.”

The comprehensive program also included detailed plans for the repair and renovation of the Kaesong-Pyongyang Expressway and the Kaesong-Sinuiju Railway. The premise of the official Inter-Korean Development Program has always been to improve overall conditions in the North while fostering better relations between North and South, but this most recent plan is the first to delineate detailed plans for large-scale investments in infrastructure.

Expansion of other inter-Korean economic collaborations were also outlined, such as:
1. Kaesong-Sinuiju railroad and Kaesong-Pyongyang railroad repairs
2. Imjin River flood prevention business
3. Food and Agriculture Organization [FAO] support of the North Korean fishing industry
4. proposals such as vitalization of inter-Korean shipping are included. In addition, depending on the situation, 5. they plan to gradually introduce reopening trade and commerce, resumption of basic economic cooperation and, launching of new businesses.

A continued dedication to improving human rights in North Korea was also announced, starting with continued pressure on lawmakers to overcome the impasse and pass the North Korean Human Rights Act. The proposed law first appeared in 2005 but has since stagnated in the National Assembly due to failure by ruling and opposition parties to reach a consensus. Additional plans to increase support to private organizations advocating human rights in North Korea as well as striving to implement the recent recommendations by the UN based on the Commission of Inquiry [COI] findings on human rights in North Korea.

The South Korean government expressed its intentions to improve the quality of life for North Korean residents by increasing humanitarian aid and support. Most notably, the South vowed to separate political and humanitarian issues, ensuring that vulnerable social groups receive the support they need, regardless of tensions on the Korean peninsula.

Read the full story here:
Report: 2014 Inter-Korean Development Plans
Daily NK
Koo Jun Hoe
2014-8-19

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Rajin (Rason) port 3 open for business

Friday, July 18th, 2014

According to KCNA:

Wharf No. 3 of Rajin Port Goes Operational

Rason, July 18, 2014 20:13 KST (KCNA) — Wharf No. 3 of Rajin Port has been built with success in the DPRK.

The building of the wharf pursuant to the plan for cooperation between the DPRK and Russia provided another foundation for making a positive contribution to boosting the friendly and cooperative relations between the two countries and economic and trade relations among countries of Europe and Northeast Asia.

An inaugural ceremony took place in Rason City Friday.

Present there were Jon Kil Su, minister of Railways, officials concerned and working people in the city.

Also present there were Vladimir Yakunin, president of the Russian Railways Company, Yury Viktorovich Bochkarev, consul general of the Russian Federation in Chongjin, those concerned of railways and other Russian guests and staff members of foreign embassies in the DPRK.

Vladimir Yakunin in a speech said he was pleased with the completion of the wharf.

The wharf is capable of loading and unloading millions of tons of coal, he said, expressing belief that such joint work would not only develop the bilateral cooperation but promote friendship and mutual understanding between the two countries.

Jon Kil Su said in his speech that the successful reconstruction of the Rajin-Khasan railway section and the completion of Wharf No. 3 of Rajin Port are precious products of the vitality of the Moscow Declaration signed by leader Kim Jong Il and President V. V. Putin. He noted that the transport channel newly provided in the spirit of friendship and cooperation between the two peoples would satisfactorily play the role of a friendship bridge linking Europe and Northeast Asia and, through this, the international position of the Rason Economic and Trade Zone would be further enhanced.

Then followed congratulatory speeches.

A reception was given on the same day.

According to ITAR-TASS:

A new Russian-North Korean terminal was commissioned on Friday in Rajin, which is the major seaport of the North Korean Rason trade and economic zone located in the northeast of the republic. Thus, the pilot part of the project aimed at the reconstruction of the Trans-Korean railway from Russia’s Hasan to the seaport of Rajinis over. Relevant agreement of the heads of Russian, North and South Korean railway authorities was signed in Russia’s Siberian city of Irkutsk in 2006.

Russian Railways’ (RZD) subsidiary, RZD Trade House, and the Rajin port had established the joint venture Rason Con Trans in order to carry out the modernization process. The cargo traffic capacity of the new high-tech multi-purpose facility is about five million tonnes a year. The initial stage of the terminal operation envisions supplies of coal and other bulky goods towards the port. Alongside with cargo transshipment and storage, the terminal makes it possible to organize coal magnetic cleaning and coal separating.

“Today, we are eyeing the loading of the first ship with Russia-mined coal,” RZD President Vladimir Yakunin told the terminal commissioning ceremony. “We are interested in bigger amounts of cargoes in the terminal and higher number of vessels, which will represent the whole world. The launching of the terminal is expected to be fruitful and beneficial not only for the economy of North Korea, but also business communities of neighbor states.”

Jointly with representatives from Russia and North Korea, businessmen from South Korea were also attending the ceremony.

This Russian source had a good summary of events leading up to the opening (Translated by Google):

The official ceremony is scheduled for July 18 in Rajin, which is considered the main port of the SRE. Investment in the project is mainly carried out by the Russian side.The volume of transshipment terminal at the first stage is planned at 4-5 million tons, according to ITAR-TASS.

Initially, the terminal was planned for container transport, but in agreement with the leadership of North Korea until it will be used for the carriage of the Russian coal. In the future, is expected to increase traffic and expand the range of goods.

Agreement to begin the reconstruction of the railway line from the Russian station to Hassan and the port of Rajin as a pilot project to restore the Trans-Korean Railway was reached in 2006. The project started in October 2008, when an agreement was signed between the “Russian Railways” and the Ministry of Railway Transport of the DPRK to cooperate in its implementation. The project is implemented by the joint venture “RasonKonTrans”, created in the same year, with the share of JSC “RZD Trading House” (70%) and the port of Rajin (30%).

In October 2011, a team of machinists Far Eastern Railways of Russia led a demonstration container train in Rajin, opening cargo traffic between the two countries. To control the movement of trains on the line Hasan – Rajin, a special control center with the participation of specialists “RasonKonTrans” and North Korean shipping company “Donghae”.

34 specialists from the DPRK have been trained in the training centers of the Far Eastern Railway.

In the future, when the message will be set up all over trnskoreyskoy magitrali – from the South Korean port of Pusan ​​through Korea to Russia, will be able to refocus on the Russian Trans-Siberian significant portion of goods that are currently going by sea from South Korea to Europe.

According to experts, these advantages have Rajin – ice-free port on the eastern coast of North Korea with the developed infrastructure, which uses Russian standard gauge with a high degree of security for shippers and benefits for entrepreneurs.

Additional information:

1. The Russia-Rason Railway that services the port was opened in September 2013.

2. South Korea is also interested in the Rajin port.

3. There has been some confusion on the legal status of the various piers at Rajin. I help shed some light on the confusion here.

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China to build new bridge linking Tumen and Namyang

Friday, May 23rd, 2014

According to the China Daily:

Construction on a new bridge over a river separating China and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) has started, authorities of northeast China’s Jilin Province said on Tuesday.

With a total investment of 137 million yuan (21.93 million US dollars), the 804.7-meter new Tumen River bridge is expected to open in 2015 or 2016 as a new route for bilateral trade, authorities said.

The old Tumen River bridge has not been repaired for many years and is facing safety risks. However, the old bridge will not be dismantled and will be kept as a scenic spot.

Tumen City is linked to the DPRK by both highway and railway.

According to Yonhap:

China will begin constructing a new major bridge to North Korea over the Tumen river, China’s state media reported Friday, in the latest sign that economic relations between the two nations remain stable despite the North’s nuclear ambition.

The 804-meter-long, 23-meter-wide bridge will link the Chinese border town of Tumen to North Korea’s northeastern coastal city of Chongjin, the Yanbian Daily newspaper reported, citing the city government of Tumen.

China’s central government recently gave a final approval to build the bridge, which is entirely funded by China at a cost of 137 million yuan (US$21.9 million), the report said.

The newspaper did not specify when the construction would start but that it would “soon be implemented.”

China has been building another major bridge connecting its border city of Dandong to the North Korean city of Sinuiju across the Amnok river, called as the Yalu River in China.

North Korea’s series of provocations, including last year’s third nuclear test, have strained political ties with its last-remaining ally, China. Still, many analysts believe that Beijing will not put strong pressure on Pyongyang due to the risk of aggravating the current situation.

According to AFP:

The bridge will replace an older structure, built in 1938, which will be turned into a tourist attraction, Xinhua said. There are several other rail and road bridges linking the two countries.

Chinese tourists recently started crossing into Namyang for day trips on bicycles.

Read the full stories here:
China to build new cross-border bridge to N. Korea: report
Yonhap
2014-5-23

New bridge to link China, DPRK
China Daily
2014-5-27

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China seeking to boost Chinese tourist numbers

Monday, April 14th, 2014

According to Yonhap:

China has launched the second train service to North Korea, state media reported Monday, a move expected to boost travel between the two nations.

The Sunday opening of regular rail services from China’s northeastern city of Jian to the North Korean capital of Pyongyang (via Manpho) makes Jian the second city offering such service after another Chinese border city of Dandong, Xinhua news agency reported.

North Korea is one of the world’s most secretive and isolated nations, but Pyongyang has stepped up efforts to attract foreign tourists since last year by offering more international and domestic flights.

In Jian, Chinese tourists can apply for a one-day round trip, which is available once every four days, to North Korea for US$480 per person, the report said.

Zang Wanghong, director of the Jian Tourist Board, said the tour agency will begin selling the tour package to the North’s western port city of Manpo before May 1, according to the report.

According to Xinhua:

A group of 32 Chinese tourists on Sunday took a train from Ji’an City in northeast China’s Jilin Province for five-day trip to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).

The opening of the train route makes Ji’an, the second city after Dandong in neighboring Liaoning Province with service to DPRK.

The train from Ji’an can take tourists to Pyongyang, Kaesong and Panmunjom in DPRK, according to Liu Jun, deputy manager of the Ji’an International Travel Agency.

Both Ji’an and Dandong face DPRK across the Yalu River. The distance between Ji’an and DPRK’s capital of Pyongyang is 400 km, while that between Dandong and Pyongyang is about 200 km.

Chinese visitors with ID cards and passports can apply for the 2,980 yuan(480 U.S. dollar) visit in Ji’an. The trip is organized every four days.

Zang Wanghong, director of the Ji’an Tourist Board, said Ji’an will open a one-day tour to Manpo, a port city on the western coast of DPRK before May 1.

Ji’an which boasts a UNESCO world heritage site of the Ancient Koguryo Kingdom hopes to develop tourism based on its own resources and its adjacency to DPRK, said Zang.

Read the full story here:
China starts 2nd rail travel service to N. Korea
Yonhap
2014-4-14

Another Chinese city opens train travel to Pyongyang
Xinhua
2014-4-13

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Sinuiju-Kaesong high-speed rail project (UPDATED)

Monday, April 7th, 2014

Sinuiju-Kaesong-high-speed-rail

Pictured Above (KBS):  A map of the planned high-speed rail project

UPDATE 4 (2014-4-29): The Choson Ilbo reports that Ms. Choi has returned from the DPRK:

The Organisation for Co-Operation between Railways (OSJD) has decided to hold two major meetings, the Commission on Freight Traffic in 2015 and Conference of General Directors in 2019, in Seoul.

KORAIL president Choi Yeon-hye made the announcement at Gimpo Airport on Monday after returning from an OSJD meeting in Pyongyang. It is unprecedented for an associate rather than full member to host the conference.

The OSJD is an organization of 27 former and current communist countries, including Russia, China and North Korea.

“We don’t know yet whether the North will attend the meetings in 2015 and 2019, but the participants unanimously decided to hold them here, and the North didn’t oppose it, so we expect them to come,” she added.

The annual conference of general directors alternatively takes place in Asia and Europe, but exceptionally the 2019 meeting will also be held in Asia following the 2018 meeting in Vietnam.

The government here is keen to work with the railway body to link South Korea to Eurasia via North Korea.

Here is coverage in Yonhap.

UPDATE 3 (2014-4-22): The Choson Ilbo reports that the head of Korail has left for the DPRK:

KORAIL president Choi Yeon-hye is appropriately on her way to North Korea by train.

Choi left for Pyongyang on a train from Beijing on Monday afternoon to attend a meeting of the Organisation for Co-Operation between Railways (OSJD), KORAIL said Monday.

The OSJD is an organization of 27 former and current communist countries, including Russia, China and North Korea.

The government approved Choi’s request to visit to the North on Sunday after the North sent her a letter of invitation. She got a visa from the North Korean Embassy in Beijing the same day.

The train runs from Beijing to the North Korean border city of Sinuiju in 24 hours, where she switches trains for the 225 km stretch to Pyongyang.

A KORAIL executive said, “Choi’s visit is the North’s first approval of a South Korean official’s visit” since the South imposed sanctions against North Korea in 2010.

She is the first senior South Korean figure to visit Pyongyang since the inter-Korean summit in 2007.

President Park Geun-hye is keen to connect South Korea to Eurasia by railway, which requires cooperation from the OSJD.

Here is coverage in Yonhap.

UPDATE 2 (2014-4-7): KBS has a report (in Korean) on the project. See the report here. Seoul Village has translated some of the details.

Construction would last 6 years, with two waves that have not been fully detailed yet:
1st stretches: 80 km
From the North: Sinujiu Station – Tongrim Station (Sinujiu-Dongnim, 40 km)
From the South: Kaesong – Yonan (Gaesong-Yeonan, 40 km)
2nd stretches: 296 km

From the North: Tongrim – Chongju – Sinanju – Pyongyang (Dongnim-Jeongju-Sinanju-Pyongyang, 147 km)
From the South: Yonan – Haeju – Sariwon – Pyongyang (Yeonan-Haeju-Sariwon-Pyongyang, 149 km)

UPDATE 1 (2014-4-7): Korail may be involved in the high-speed rail project. According to the Hankyoreh:

News of a recent agreement between North Korea and China to build an international high-speed railroad and highway between Sinuiju (a city on the Chinese border) and Kaesong is raising questions about the fate of a scheduled North Korea visit on Apr. 24 by Korail CEO Choi Yeon-hye.

If Korail does participate in the project, it would bring South Korea one step closer to the Asian continent via the North Korea-China high-speed rail project, which comes on the heels on North Korea‘s Rajin-Hasan development project with Russia.

South Korean businesspeople in China who are closely involved in the high-speed rail project said on Apr. 6 that a contract for the railway/highway construction was signed in Beijing on Feb. 24 by North Korea’s State Economic Development Commission, chaired by Kim Ki-sok, and a Chinese consortium headed by the Shangdi Guanqun investment company. The line would be 376 km in length and connect Sinuiju with Chongju, Sukchon, Pyongyang, Haeju, and Kaesong, with the five-year construction beginning in 2018 with a budget of US$21 billion, or around 22 trillion won. The method would be a Build-Operate-Transfer (BOT) arrangement, with an international North Korean-Chinese consortium providing the investment and delivering the line to North Korea once the costs are recouped. A survey team for the Chinese consortium is reportedly scheduled to visit North Korea in late April.

The chances of South Korea participating are higher in the wake of President Park Geun-hye’s speech in Dresden on Mar. 31. There, she declared that an “organic linkage between South Korean capital and technology and North Korean resources and labor could contribute to building a future economic community on the Korean Peninsula.”

She also said she planned to “achieve shared development for the Korean Peninsula and Northeast Asia both through collaborations with North Korea and Russia, as with the current Rajin-Hasan distribution project, and collaborations with North Korea and China focusing on Sinuiju.”

Further increasing the possibility of South Korean participation are guidelines handed down in January by North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, who said North Korea should work with China and South Korea on an international line through a privately funded BOT arrangement.

Meanwhile, Korail is awaiting Ministry of Unification approval on a request to allow CEO Choi Yeon-hye to travel to North Korea to attend a general directors’ conference for the Organisation for Co-Operation between Railways (OSJD), which is scheduled to take place on Apr. 24.

“Our basic position is to approve visits to North Korea in cases of international events,” said an official from the ministry on condition of anonymity, adding that a final decision would be made “after discussions with the other agencies.”

But Korail remains cautious about the possibility of future cooperation, whatever the outcome for Choi’s visit ends up being. Speaking on condition of anonymity, a source there said, “We’re preparing data on things like a plan to expand cargo transport for different continental rail zones, which is one of the topics on the agenda at the OSJD meeting.”

“We’ve never officially examined the North Korea-China high-speed rail project, and it doesn’t look like it would be economically feasible anyway unless a section is opened between Seoul and Kaesong,” the source added. “Anyway, the government has not decided on participating, and that‘s not a matter that KORAIL can weigh in on by itself.”

ORIGINAL POST (2013-12-20): High Speed Rail and Road Connecting Kaesong-Pyongyang-Sinuiju to be Built
Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)
2013-12-20

On December 8, 2013, North Korea reached an agreement with a consortium of international companies to construct highways and high-speed railroad connecting Kaesong, Pyongyang, and Sinuiju.

The agreement between North Korean authorities and a consortium representing the Chinese companies was signed in both Chinese and Korean by Kim Chol Jin, Vice-Chairman of State Economic Commission of North Korea and representatives from state-owned enterprises of China’s Commerce Department.

The construction period was designated as five years and businesses will operate the rail for 30 years and return the operation rights to North Korean government in the form of a BOT (build-operate-transfer) project, worth a total of 15 trillion KRW. The high-speed rail will be a double-track system with a speed of more than 200km per hour, and the construction of four-lane highway will be built adjacent to the railway. Fence will also be built to prevent unauthorized access to the railway.

The construction zone will cover the areas of Kaesong, Haeju, Sariwon, Pyongyang, Sinanju, Jongju and Sinuiju, approximately 400 km in total length and from Sinuiju will connect to Chinese cities via railway while from Jongju will connect with the Rajin-Sonbong SEZ (special economic zone) to the Russian Khasan railway to be linked with the Eurasian railway.

The consortium working group is planning to visit North Korea to confirm the specific construction plans. It was tentatively decided that the formal contract be signed in Pyongyang based on the proposal submitted by the consortium.

The subject of agreement is a multinational consortium of international investment group, which also includes a South Korean company, which is known as a company involved in North Korean mineral resources development. Once the project is in progress, there are plans of bringing other South Korean companies into the project.

In exchange, businesses will obtain the development rights of extracting gold from Hyesan City (Ryanggang Province) and iron ore in Musan (North Hamgyong Province). North Korean officials are claiming that this project was the legacy of Kim Jong Il and welcomed the participation of South Korean companies.

In March 2011, former North Korean leader Kim Jong Il is reported to have instructed that inter-Korean exchange programs be continued. Upon the completion of the railways and highways, the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly will proclaim international road operations to ensure its stable operation.

The operation rights will be given to the consortium for 30 years while the ownership rights will be shared by the North Korean government and the consortium.

China is also building new railway lines up towards the North Korean border.

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Russia and DPRK discuss economic opportunities

Saturday, March 29th, 2014

What are the opportunities? Rason port, Iron Silk Road (Rail), Kaesong Industrial Complex, gas pipeline.

According to RIA Novosti:

Russia and North Korea have signed a new protocol to transition to using the ruble for payments between the two countries as part of an effort to boost annual bilateral trade to $1 billion by 2020, Russia’s Far East Development Ministry said Friday.

The announcement came as Russian officials have expressed a desire to explore new markets for the country’s businesses, following the introduction of sanctions by the West in reaction to Moscow’s stance over Crimea. Russian leaders have simultaneously reassured international investors the country remains open for business, and there are no plans to restrict international commerce.

The protocol announced Friday came following a visit of a Russian delegation to the Asian country for a meeting of a standing bilateral commission, timed to mark the 65th anniversary of a cooperation agreement between the Soviet Union and North Korea.

The parties agreed to move towards settling payments in rubles as well as adopting further measures to boost bilateral trade, including easing visa procedures and providing for Russian access to proposed special economic zones in the country, the ministry’s statement said.

The ministry reaffirmed the countries’ mutual interest in joint projects with South Korea, including international connections for railways [Iron Silk Road], gas pipelines and power lines.

The Russian delegation also proposed the entry of Russian businesses into the Kaesong Industrial Park, a special economic zone in North Korea just north of Seoul where South Korean companies are allowed to employ northern workers.

The two sides identified areas for further cooperation, including a transshipment complex at the port of Rason and technical cooperation for the modernization of North Korea’s mining sector, automobile industry and electric power plants.

According to the statement, during the talks Russian Far East Development Minister Alexander Galushka emphasized that achieving such goals would only be possible if stability is maintained on the Korean peninsula.

The next meeting of the bilateral commission is scheduled for June in Russia’s far eastern Vladivostok.

Here is what Yonhap reports:

North Korea and Russia have agreed to boost economic ties by pushing for trilateral projects involving South Korea, including a plan to support Russian companies’ entry into an inter-Korean industrial complex, a media report said Saturday.

The agreement between the two was made earlier this week when Russia’s Far East Development Minister Alexander Galushka visited the North for a five-day run until Friday to explore ways to boost bilateral economic cooperation, according to the Russian news agency RIA Novosti.

“The Russian delegation proposed the entry of Russian businesses into the Kaesong Industrial Park, a special economic zone in North Korea just north of Seoul where South Korean companies are allowed to employ northern workers,” the RIA Novosti reported, citing the ministry.

Officials of Seoul’s unification ministry, which handles inter-Korean affairs, welcomed the agreement between the North and Russia, while stressing the importance of Russia’s prior consultation with the South.

“Russian companies’ making inroads into the Kaesong park is desirable in terms of the internationalization of the complex … It would also prevent the North from unilaterally reversing its agreement with Seoul over the Kaeesong operation,” the ministry official said, requesting anonymity.

Internationalization of the enclave, a symbol of inter-Korean detente, is one of the key topics for inter-Korean meetings aimed at ensuring its normal operations and further invigorating the complex. The Kaesong park resumed operations in September, more than five months after the North unilaterally closed it in anger over Seoul-Washington joint military exercises.

“But it is crucial for Russia to discuss the matter with our side first as it is basically operated by the South Korean authorities,” he added.

A handful of companies from China, Australia and Germany have so far expressed interests in making an investment in the Kaesong complex, prompting the Seoul government to review holding joint presentation sessions with the North to lure investors from overseas, according to another ministry official.

Here is additional information from Yonhap on recent shipments from Russia to the DPRK:

Russia exported US$21.16 million’s worth of jib cranes, machinery used mostly for cargo handling at ports, to North Korea last year, accounting for nearly 22 percent of its total exports to the North, according to the report by the Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency (KOTRA). The amount surpasses that of Russia’s traditional export goods such as coal, petroleum and bituminous oil.

There were no records of the machines being exported to North Korea the year before, with the 2011 amount standing at $139,000.

North Korea and Russia maintain economic relations that include a project that would make North Korea’s northeastern port city of Rajin a logistics hub by connecting it to Russia’s Trans-Siberian Railway. North Korea is said to have agreed to a long-term lease of the No. 3 dock at Rajin port to Russia and that it is modernizing facilities there. The cranes may be for such modernization efforts, the KOTRA report said.

Also noteworthy is Russia’s exports of ambulances to the North, amounting to approximately 10.1 billion won ($9.45 million), the fourth largest in terms of value. Ambulances are a relatively new product on the trade list.

KCNA’s reporting of the meeting was much more muted:

DPRK Premier Meets Minister of Development of Far East of Russia

Pyongyang, March 26 (KCNA) — Pak Pong Ju, premier of the DPRK Cabinet, met Alexandr Galushka, minister of the Development of Far East of Russia who is chairman of the Russian side to the Inter-governmental Committee for Cooperation in Trade, Economy, Science and Technology between the DPRK and Russia, and his party.

He had a friendly talk with them who paid a courtesy call on him at the Mansudae Assembly Hall on Wednesday.

Minutes of Talks between Governments of DPRK, Russia Signed

Pyongyang, March 26 (KCNA) — Minutes of talks on cooperation in trade, economy, science and technology between the governments of the DPRK and Russia were signed here Wednesday.

Present at the signing ceremony were Ri Ryong Nam, minister of Foreign Trade who is chairman of the DPRK side to the Inter-governmental Committee for Cooperation in Trade, Economy, Science and Technology between the DPRK and Russia, and officials concerned, Alexandr Galushka, minister for the Development of Far East who is chairman of the Russian side to the Inter-governmental Committee, and his party and Alexandr Timonin, Russian ambassador to the DPRK.

Ri Ryong Nam and Alexandr Galushka signed the minutes of the talks.

Read the full story here:
Russia, North Korea Agree to Settle Payments in Rubles in Trade Pact
RIA Novosti
2014-3-28

N. Korea, Russia to discuss supporting Moscow firms’ advance into Kaesong park
Yonhap
2014-3-29

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Choe Hyon Chol on Rason development

Wednesday, March 26th, 2014

According to Naenara, Choe Hyon Chol is the section chief of the State Economic Development Commission (SEDC). He has previously been identified as a director of the Korean Association of Economic Development. In a recent interview with Naenara, he discusses the benefits of investing in the Rason Economic and Trade Zone.

Before getting to the interview, however, it is worth noting that the Rason Economic and Trade Zone was set up before the creation of the State Economic Development Commission and it was “controlled” by Jang Song-thaek. Since Jang’s purge, it appears that Rason (and probably Hwanggumphyong) have been moved to the SEDC’s portfolio–that is, under the control of the cabinet.

Here is the interview:

Reporter: Would you please give me a briefing on the Rason Economic and Trade Zone that is now under development.

Choe: As you know, northeast Asia becomes one of the global development regions with a great potentiality, for the countries in this region have comparative advantages in respect of availability of production factors such as economic conditions, natural resources and economic and trade relations.

The Rason Economic and Trade Zone, situated on the western shore of the lower Tuman River in the northeastern part of Korea, borders on China and Russia, and Japan with the sea on the east. Its geographical location offers immense economic and traffic advantages as a transportation hub as well as a bridgehead of the continent.

Occupying an area of 470 km2, it has Rajin Port with an annual handling capacity of 3 million tons of cargoes, Sonbong Port with a handling capacity of 2 million tons of oil and Ungsang Port with a handling capacity of 600 000 m3 of timbre. The sea off the ports is deep and not frozen even in winter.

Rajin Port, in particular, has favourable conditions for creating cargo handling capacity of over 100 million tons without building a breakwater thanks to the Taecho and Socho islands in front of it.

The zone has also advantageous traffic connections with neighbouring countries.

Rajin-Wonjong class-B road (51 km), Rajin Port-Tumen railway (158 km) and Rajin Port-Khasan railway (51 km) are under construction or nearing completion.

The Rason Economic and Trade Zone is endowed with abundant tourist resources such as beautiful seascape, lake and bathing resorts, and 20-odd islands including Pipha, Taecho, Socho and Al islands.

In view of these favourable geopolitical and economic conditions, the DPRK government declared Rason city as an economic and trade zone on December 28, 1991 and held an international investment seminar with participation of entrepreneurs from 27 countries under the sponsorship of the UNDP and UNIDO in September 1996. It also raised Rason city to the status of special city on January 4, 2010 and agreed with China on the issue of joint development and management of Rason Economic and Trade Zone and Hwanggumphyong-Wihwado Economic Zone in May 2010.

In November 2010 the DPRK and the Chinese governments signed the Agreement on Joint Development and Management of Rason Economic and Trade Zone and Hwanggumphyong-Wihwado Economic Zone and organized the DPRK-China Joint Guidance Committee. The second session of the committee was held in June 2011 in Yanji, Jilin Province, China and its third session in August 2012 in Beijing. Besides, both governments concluded the agreement on establishment and operation of management committee for Rason Economic and Trade Zone, the master plan for DPRK-China joint development of the zone, the framework agreements on investment in ports, industrial districts and power transmission within the zone and investment and cooperation for construction of a new border bridge between Wonjong and Quanhe, the agreements on investment and cooperation for a high-efficiency agricultural model district and investment and cooperation for building-materials industry and the master plans for Sonbong-Paekhak industrial district and Rajin port industrial district.

The development of the zone in which a hundred and scores of businesses from different countries of the world are now active is in its initial stage but the number of potential investors with exceptional interests in the zone is increasing as days go by.

Reporter: How is the present state and prospect of the zone?

Choe: I shall begin with the progress of city construction.

The city is divided into residential quarters, industrial district and traffic junction district. The residential quarters consist of economic and trade area and peripheral area; the economic and trade area is subdivided into Rajin, Sonbong, Ungsang, Kulpho-Uam and Chonghak areas and the peripheral area into Tumangang, Hongui, Wonjong and Huchang areas. The industrial area embraces Changphyong, Yokjon, Chonggye, Sinhung, Tongmyong, Namsan and Andong areas.

The traffic junction district includes Rajin, Sonbong and Ungsang ports, Rajin, Ungra and Sonbong railway stations and Chongjin-Wonjong and Chongjin-Tuman River roads.

The Rajin Port, a transit trade port, is the hub of international cargo transit transportation and transport of exports and imports of entrepreneurs who invested in the zone.

The port has assignments to transport marine products for export from the East Sea of Korea and every kind of cargoes from and to northeast area of China and Far East Region of Russia.

The Rajin Port consists of three wharves; wharf No. 1 is designed to be renovated and operated by China Dalian Chuang Li Co., Ltd. and wharf No.3 by Rason International Container Transport J. V. Company to be set up according to the contract with Russian Rail Trade Co., Ltd.

The project of Rajin-Wonjong road started in April 2011 and completed in October 2012, and the power transmission project is now under way.

Currently, three railways run through Rason.

In the whole section of the Pyongyang-Tumangang line, standard gauge track

(1,435 mm) is laid from Pyongyang to Rajin and combined-gauge track with standard gauge and broad gauge (1 520 mm) from Rajin Railway Station to Tumangang Railway Staion, leading to Khasan Railway Station.

The updating project of Rajin-Namyang railway has been agreed with China in October 2012 and the construction of Sonbong-Paekhak industrial district, building materials industrial district, high-efficiency agricultural model district and Wonjong-Quanhe border bridge is in full swing.

When the construction projects of power line, railways, ports and border bridge are brought to completion, the Rason Economic and Trade Zone will be turned into a promising economic and trade zone of the world standard.

Next, tourism is booming in this zone.

Rason has eight bays and 21 islands, big and small.

There are Pipha, Chujin and Kalum Headland tourist attractions furnished with hotels, restaurants and sea bathing grounds along the coast.

Rason abounds in natural monuments, mineral water, spring water and marine products, and sea birds and coastal scenery strike tourists with admiration.

As mentioned above, the Rason Economic and Trade Zone is a special economic zone equipped with all conditions favourable for preferential trade and investment, transit transportation, tourism and financial and service businesses.

The DPRK government is constantly encouraging foreign investors to invest in intermediate trade, industry, agriculture, construction, transport, communications, science and technology, tourism, service and finance.

Today the development prospect of the zone is optimistic.

We are looking forward to an active investment in development projects of the zone, promising high profit with small investment.

Reporter: Thank you for kind explanation.

State Economic Development Commission of the DPRK

PDF of the interview here.

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