(UPDATE) North Hamgyong by rail

(UPDATE) These adventurers set up a couple of blogs to catalogue their trip.
1. Approaching Russia/Korea border
2. Entering North Korea at Tumangang
3. By train across North Korea (1/2)
4. By train across North Korea (2/2)
5. Pyongyang-Myohyangsan



I just finished reading an incredibe DPRK travel account by two Swiss and Austrain rail enthusiasts who recently traveled the Trans-Siberian Railway from Europe to Pyongyang.  If you are interested in Russia and/or the DPRK you need to treat yourself to their pictures and travel journals as much of their material has not been published in the West.

I have included links to their trip from Ussuriyisk and Khasan to Pyongyang below, with some selected comments from their diary:

1. From Ussuriysk to Khasan (Russia):

Selected comments:

Trains over the border were not listed, but I knew that there is not only the twice-monthly sleeping car Moscow – Pyongyang, but also a twice-weekly cross-border passenger train Khasan – Tumangan.

I asked him [a Russian border agent], whether and how often he met foreigners here. He said, that he has been working here for about one year and that we were the 1st foreigners (except North Koreans, of course), he met.

The answer was that usually only Russian and Korean citizen cross the border, but that there have been a few third country citizen here, but they didn’t remember when that was the last time…

They also said, that among the passengers of the sleeping car to Pyongyang there are usually not even Russian citizen. Russian citizen crossing the border only go to the so called “Rajin-Sonbong Special Economic zone”, setup by the North Korean administration in cooperation with China and Russia

2. From Khasan to Tumangang Station (DPRK border)

3. From Tumangang Station to Pyongyang part 1:

Selected Comments:

(North Korea uses normal gauge – 1435mm)

We then talked about other things. They said that they had studied in Pyongyang and now have to serve at the army here in Tumangan. 

One of them told us, that he had seen the Hollywood-movie “Titanic” in the cinema in Pyongyang (I have also read before, that Titanic was shown in North Korean cinemas) and both said that they were glad to practice their language skills together with us. And one of them said, that he also wished to travel around the world like we did and see foreign countries… I hope in future it will be possible for him.

And of course the mobile-phones were of special interest, as they are forbidden in North Korea. The “translator” said, that they would be sealed and that we must open the envelope only when we leave the country. The sealing was quite simple: The customs official asked me for some of paper (obviously they didn’t have their own…) and I gave him two empty DIN-A4-sheets, in which he enwraped the mobile phones and which he closed with a yellow tape, which he then stamped several times…

They told us, that they now have to take the books, the laptop, the camera and the USB-sticks with them for some further inspection by a specialist, and that we would receive our belongings later.

They asked us to put all this items into the two smaller backpack (both of us had a big and a small backpack). Then they took the backpacks and left the sleeping-car.

They also provided the following information:

At http://www.logistics.ru/9/7/i77_6557p0.htm you can find a Russian article about the history of this border crossing point.

The line on the Russian side from Baranovskiy to Khasan was built between 1938 and 1951. The first bridge over the border was a wooden railway bridge opened in 1952. In 1954, when cross-border freight traffic offically started, 4400 tons of freight were transported over the border. That number rose to 12.000 tons in 1955.
In 1959 the new bridge, which still exists today, was opened.
The peak in freight traffic was in 1988 with 4.795.000 tons (USSR > DPRK: 4.070.000 tons, DPRK > USSR 725.000 tons). The numbers show, that the USSR ecenomically supported the DPRK and due to the political and economical changes in the former USSR the mostly unidirectional trade between the two countries decreased after 1988:

1988 – 4.795.000
1990 – 3.526.000
1993 – 2.306.000
1994 – 761.000
1999 – 230.000
2002 – 68.000

Only after 2002 a slight increase is noticeable, in 2004 106.000 tons were transported. However, the infrastrucuture was overdimensioned, and it has therefore been reduced: Several tracks at Khasan station were removed, as well as 3 of 14 passing-tracks between Baranovskiy and Khasan.

Passenger traffic was opened in 1958 and 10582 passengers crossed the border during the first year. Till 1988 this number rose to 21.000/42.000 passengers (I’m not sure, does “vozroslo na 200%” mean “rose to 200%” or “rose by 200%”?).

The new station building in Khasan was opened in 1989 and it was suitable to handle up to 500 international passengers per day. However, also passenger traffic is now lower than it was at it’s best times. During the 1st 6 months of 2005 5315 passengers crossed the border.

4. From Tumangang to Pyongyang part 2:
Selected comments:

Considering the number of other trains we met, one cannot say that railway traffic in North Korea is in total disorder and in it’s last throes. Trains are running and during our trip from Tumangan to Pyongyang there were obviously no problems with electricity supply for the catenary. Only once we stopped for 5 minutes in the middle of nowhere, but that might have been caused also by something else. However, the tracks are in bad condition, that causes the delay.

Freight trains where quite rare and relatively short (passing tracks at stations have usually a length of 400-500 meters according to Google Earth, so freight traffic inside North Korea might indeed be very low. And we saw less factories than expected considering our experiences in other former Socialist states. The main economic activity in North Korea seemed to be still agriculture.


2 Responses to “(UPDATE) North Hamgyong by rail”

  1. Gag Halfrunt says:

    I saw this too (via SkyscraperCity) was going to tell you about it.

    P.S. Did you notice the disclaimer at the end of part 7 about Khasan/Tumangan not being an authorised entry point for tourists?

    Alltough we succesfully entered North Korea via Tumangan, we were later via e-mail told by our travel agency, that our trip caused serious troubles at KITC (the governmental “Korean International Tourist Company”) and that they have enforced new regulations to avoid any not agreed (with KITC) entry via Tumangan in future.
    I can therefore – untill KITC officially accepts this border point for tourists – not recommend to repeat what we did, as trying to do so might end up with another result…