Mansudae Korea

The Korean State Railway

The Korean State Railway

What is the Korean State Railway?

Like all corporations in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the railway network is a nationalised company, operating all the railway lines around the country. All major cities are linked into the railway network which is used for passenger travel and cargo transport. Many of the major ports and border crossings are linked to the railway network to allow fast transport of imported goods around the country. Given the lack of extensive highway network (only a few major cities are linked to Pyongyang by highway) the railway network is considerably extensive with 6,000km of track covering almost every city and travelling through the sparse mountain regions.

History of the KSR

The Korean War saw most of the rail network in the DPRK destroyed by American carpet bombing which left the country without any rail connections in 1953. The Chinese aided with the construction of railway lines in the country, so that goods could be quickly transported to places where US bombing efforts had totally destroyed all infrastructure. This is the origin of the extensive rail network in place today, since constructing roads all over the country would have been too expensive, and railways were quicker to build and meant freight could be shipped quickly all over the country to aid the rebuilding efforts. As part of this supportive rebuilding effort, international links for the rail line were prioritised with rail bridges to China and Russia built so that foreign aid shipments from those countries could enter the country easily.

The late 1950s saw the start of the Beijing-Pyongyang train service which still runs today, and in the closing year of that decade, a permanent friendship bridge was build between Tumangang and Khasan, a small border town in Russia (formerly the USSR).

The Chollima movement, the guiding principle of the 1960s in the DPRK which prioritised rapid economic redevelopment in the country, relied heavily on the railway network, still being constructed after the destruction of the Korean War. The lines were used to aid development in some of the major cities all over the country. During this period, many of the lines were electrified and a new Ministry of Railways was established, demonstrating the importance of the rail network. The last major section of line to be electrified was the line from Haeju to Hasong in 1982.

After a period of decline in the 1990s and early 2000s, the railway network saw significant redevelopment, perhaps owing to the Sunshine policy of President Kim Dae-jung in the Republic of Korea which allowed the North to begin revitalising it’s economy and numerous new lines were built. Since then, agreements with China to build high speed lines between Kaesong, Pyongyang and Sinuiju have been signed and Russia has agreed to allow Koreans studying at the Pyongyang Railway University to study in a Khabarovsk, Russia. More recently, talks between the two Korean states have discussed linking their networks. In fact, railway lines already exist between the two, however they have not been in regular use.

Major or Trunk lines

  • Pyongui line. Connecting Pyongyang to the border city of Sinuiju, this line connects to the Sino-Korean friendship bridge across the Yalu/Amnok river and to Dandong where Chinese lines take international passengers to Beijing.
  • Pyongra line. Connecting Pyongyang with Rajin in the far north-east near the border town of Tumangang.
  • Pyongnam line. Linking the cities of Pyongyang to Nampo, this short line provides a rail link between the largest national port and the capital city.
  • Pyongdok line. Pyongyang is connected to Kujang county via this line. A relatively short line running through the western side of central Korea.
  • Pyongbu line. Linking Kaesong to Pyongyang, this Pyongbu line continues to link to Dorasan station in the Republic of Korea.
  • Paektusan Chongnyon line. Connecting Kilju with Mt. Paektu, the short line links the sacred mountain of Paektu with the northeast coast of the country.
  • Manpo line. Connecting Sunchon with Manpo on the northern border with China.
  • Kumgangsan Chongnyon line. Linking Wonsan to the Kumgangsan mountain range and tourist area. The line extends to join with the Republic of Korea network.
  • Kangwon line. Linking Kowon(near Wonsan)with Pyongyang in the south, the line is relatively short with lines linking it to the Republic of Korea network.
  • Hongui line. A tiny stretch of track connecting the Pyongra line to Khasan in the Russian Federation via Tumangang and the Russo-Korean border.
  • Hambuk line. Linking Chongjin to Rajin, taking a long route north to the Chinese border (with a closed border crossing) before following the border down into Rajin.

Electric Railcar at the Pyongyang Railway Museum

International routes

The main international rail route into and out of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea is at the Sinuiju-Dandong border crossing, along the Sino-Korean friendship bridge. The crossing allows tourists and other passengers to travel from China into the DPRK and also facilitates the trading of goods between the two countries. There is a second link with China on the Hambuk line, however it is closed.

There is a small international rail link between Tumangang and Khasan, Russia. The line allows the two countries to trade at the border, however, passenger transport is not as common as it is in Sinuiju, with the exception of a regular service from Pyongyang to Vladivostok where the coach connects to the trans-siberian service to Moscow, making Pyongyang-Moscow the longest single rail journey in the would.

The KSR network links numerous times across the DMZ, an example of how the two nations were once united. The lines are either entirely disused or maintained for diplomatic purposes, however they are only used extremely rarely and with express prior permission.

Benjamin Weston

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