Hinweis f�r at.verkehr.bahn und de.etc.bahn.misc:
Zwecks Vermeidung doppelten Schreibaufwandes verfasse ich diesen RB nur in
englischer Sprache, um ihn ggf. auch f�r englischsprachige Foren verwenden
Vienna � Pyongyang by train
In september I made a trip to the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea,
better known as North Korea.
Not only that North Korea is quite an unusual touristic destination, my
route to North Korea was even more unusual � I travelled the whole way from
Vienna (Austria) to Pyongyang by train via Slovakia, Ukraine and Russia. And
I used a route into North Korea, which is said to be impossible for
Together with a friend from Switzerland, who joined me in Irkutsk (Russia),
we entered North Korea from Russia via the border at Hasan/Tumangan, whereas
usually tourists can only use the railway line from the Chinese-Korean
border at Dandong/Sinuiju to Pyongyang.
The trip plan was:
2008-09-07: leaving Vienna, changing trains at Bratislava and Kosice. Taking
the Russian sleeping car to Moskva via Ukraine..
2008-09-09: changing trains in Moscow (3,5 hour layover). Train 118 to
Novosibirsk via Kazan � Sverdlovsk � Omsk.
2008-09-11: arrival at Irkutsk and short side trip (train 601) to Barnaul.
2008-09-12: short stay at Barnaul, leaving at lunchtime with train 626 to
Novosibirsk. 5 hour layover at Novosibirsk in the evening, then by train 12
via Krasnoyarsk � Taishet to Usole-Sibirskoe.
2008-09-14: arriving at Usole-Sibirskoe (68 km from Irkutsk), visiting
friends there. In the evening trip by express-eletrichka to Irkutsk. Meeting
with my travel-buddy from Switzerland and his girlfriend (they have together
made a big trip before, she didn�t come with us to North Korea, but flew
home from Irkutsk).
2008-09-15: leaving Irkutsk on board of the Korean sleeping car attached to
the �Rossiya� train twice-monthly (ususally on the 11th and 25th from Moscow
and 4 days later from Irkutsk).
2008-09-18: layover at Ussurijsk (the Korean sleeping car is uncoupled from
the �Rossiya� in the morning and leaves only in the afternoon with another
train to Hasan (Russian border station), where it arrives late night.
2008-09-19: crossing the border between Russia and the Democratic Peoples
Republic of Korea. Departure from Tumangan in the evening.
2008-09-20: arrival in Pyongyang late evening.
2008-09-21: sightseeing in/around Pyongyang
2008-09-22: sightseeing in/around Pyongyang
2008-09-23: sightseeing in/around Pyongyang
2008-09-24: sightseeing in/around Pyongyang
2008-09-25: leaving Pyongyang with the international train to Beijing.
Border crossing at Sinuiju/Dandong.
2008-09-26: arrival at Beijing in the morning. Sightseeing in/around Beijing
2008-09-27: Sightseeing in/around Beijing
2008-09-28: Sightseeing in/around Beijing
2008-09-29: Flying home to Vienna/Zurich via Dusseldorf.
The trip started at about 10:45 at the urban station Wien-Traisengasse(3
minutes walk from my flat), from where I took a �S-Bahn� to the S�dbahnhof
(Southern station). This first trip took only about 10-15 minutes.
At 11:28 the local train to Bratislava departed from the S�dbahnhof. It also
conveyed a direct Ukrainian sleeping car from Wien to Kyiv, but as I was
going further to Moscow, the Russian sleeping car Kosice � Moscow was more
suitable for me.
The trip to Bratislava took about 70 minutes. I met an old man travelling to
Chop. He was told that this train goes direct to Chop, but appearently he
was not told that only the sleeping car goes there. The conductor � not
knowing where Chop is located � thought that he was in the wrong train, but
I explained them that everything is OK and that just several changes of
trains (in Bratislava, Kosice and Cierna nad Tisou) are necessary to reach
In Bratislava I had a 70-minutes layover. It is also possible to take a
later train from Vienna to shorten the waiting time at Bratislava, but as I
wanted to buy some cheap Slovakian train tickets for my friend in Moscow
(tickets for domestic trips inside Russia can often be cheaper in Slovakia
than in Russia�) such a layover was OK.
The old man wanted to upgrade to the sleeping car, but the Ukrainian
conductors told him, that there were no free places.
As he was not seeing well and was a little bit confused, I helped him (when
chanhig trains) on the further trip to reach Chop. He was glad about that
and later he said that withouth my help he wouldn�t have reached Chop.
From Bratislava my onward express train no. 609 to Kosice departed at 13:47.
Train 609 consisted of about 10 Slovakian cars and the Ukrainian sleeping
car. Some of the cars were already modernized with air-condition, but in my
compartment-car the air-condition didn�t work so I (and the old man from
Vienna) moved to a open-cabin-car with. BTW, the 83-year-old man told me,
that he was born in Western Ukraine and had moved to Austria already 35
years ago. This was his first trip back to his homeland.
En-route to Kosice:
In Kosice the train arrived 5 minutesd delayed at 19:55. The connecting
local train to Cierna nad Tisou departed at 20:07. We changed to that train,
to which also the Ukrainian sleeping car was attached. I boarded the Russian
sleeping car to Moskva and also the old man bought an inofficial upgrade for
this sleeping car to avoid a further change of trains at Cierna nad Tisou.
I had booked a place in a �Double�-compartment, as the 3-bed-configuration
on Russian international sleeping cars is too narrow for longer trips like
this. �Double� requires a 1st class ticket for the Ukrainian and Russian
part, but instead of one 1st class ticket, I had � for some reason � a 2nd
class Citystarticket for 2 persons, which after some explanation was also
accpeted by the conductor. The other place in my compartment was not booked
and I stayed the whole time alone till Moscow.
The sleeping car was a modernized RIC-WLABm of RZD. It was air-conditioned
and there was a small refrigerator in each compartment (below the seat).
Some windows on the corridor-side could be opened to take photos.
Inside the compartment:
(Photo taken on another trip in a car of the same type)
Arrival at Cierna was at 21:56 and there the 2 sleeping cars are attached to
another local train, which goes just over the border to Chop.
Shunting at Cierna nad Tisou:
The Slovakian border checks took place at a new checkpint almost at the
border (built with EU money), whereas the Ukranian border checks took place
during the stop at the station Chop. Formalities at this boder are fast,
easy and not worth mentioning compared to what we experienced on other
border crossings during this trip. I sayed goodbye to the old man, who left
the train here.
Slovakian border checkpoint:
(anyone knowing what the detectors on the 2nd photo are searching?)
At Chop also the boogie exchanging procedure is done. It is done for the 2
sleeping cars coming from Slovakia as well as for some other sleeping cars
of the �Tisza-Express� coming from Budapest. After that procedure all the
sleeping cars from Wien, Kosice, Budapest, Beograd, Zagreb are rearranged
and attached to a �domestic� train from Uzhgorod to Moskva. Departure from
Chop was at 3:32 (East European time, one hour ahead of Central European
Regauging at Chop:
(due to darkness not much can be seen, but the typical sounds during the
regauging procedure might be interesting...)
Train trip across Ukraine via Lviv � Ternopil � Hmelnizki � Vinniza � Kyiv.
I already used this line several times (the last time was only 3 weeks ago),
so it was already a little bit boring � the same procedure as every time�
BTW, train 15/16 (�Tisza�) uses the Shmerinka avoiding curve. In Lviv and
Kyiv sleeping cars were detached.
15 minutes stop at Grechani:
Arriving at Kyiv:
In the evening the Ukrainian border checks took place at Konotop, still more
than 100 km from the actual border to Russia.
From Konotop the train ran non-stop to Brjansk, already more than 100 km
inside Russia, where finally the Russian border checks take place at the
uncivilizised time of 4 a.m. (Moscow time, one hour ahead of East European
time). Apart from the horrible time, the border checks also here were no
problem and I got my Russian multiple-visa stamped without any questions.
After some more sleep I finally arrived at Moscow at about 10 a.m. at the
Kievskaya station. My friend Alexander was waiting for me and we drove to
his flat to have some breakfast together.
Arriving at Moskva Kievskaya:
Wunderbar! und vielen Dank
on Fri, 3 Oct 2008 12:29:57 +0200, "Helmut Uttenthaler"
>2008-09-11: arrival at Irkutsk and short side trip (train 601) to Barnaul.
Das muss sicher Nowosibirsk statt Irkutsk heißen.
At his flat Alexander gave me our tickets to Pyongyang. This time it was not
possible to make a combination with the Slovakian Citystar-Ticket, as the
ticketsellers at MZA refused to issue such a ticket (meaning a ticket only
from Ussurijsk with an reservation from Irkutsk).
Alexander told me about this fact before, but it was already too late to
give the Citystar-Ticket back. But he said he can use my Citystar-ticket
some of his clients travelling from Moscow to Siberia. So I used it till
Moscow and sold it to him. In Bratislava I bought an additional Moskva –
Irkutsk one-way-ticket for me.
As we wanted to travel in our own compartment (we thought, that the only
possibility to take photos inside North Korea is from inside the compartment
without being watched by Koreans...), we bought four tickets for the trip to
Pyongyang. We wanted to buy the additional two tickets only from Ussurijsk
instead of Irkutsk, but that was not possible, as the Russian booking system
does not know a reservation price for Ussurijsk – Pyongyang. So we bought
two tickets + reservations Habarovsk – Pyongyang (and of course two tickets
+ reservations Irkutsk - Pyongyang). All that was not cheap, but how often
in life one travels this interesing route? Money was not really a question
After breakfast, some talks and a shower we drove to Kazansky station.
En-route we made a stop at the MZA-office to issue my tickets Novosibirsk –
Barnaul – Novosibirsk, which I booked online via http://ticket.rzd.ru.
At about 12:50 we arrived at Kazansky station and I boarded train no. 118 to
Novokuznezk. As expected my reserved place was in a car with additional
service (also called "ekonom-klass”). Due to some reservation-system
problems at the time of buying the reservation, in Austria it was only
possible to book places in male/female-compartments, but not in mixed
compartments. And the male/female-compartments are usually in cars with
additional services, where food is included in the price. The reservation
price in the international fare is of course the same irrespective of the
level of service.
Of course my strange looking tickets and reservation issued in
Slovakia/Austria surprised the conductors, but after I explained the tickets
and showed a self-written paper with detailed explanations, they accepted my
travel documents. After some time the crew of the dining car came again to
ask me about my tickets. They wanted to know whether the food is included
also in my ticket. I explained that the remark "mit Zuschlag” means "s
uslugami" and that the food is included. According to the official rules
this is not exactly true, but nobody really knows this rules...
2nd class ticket Moskva - Irkutsk, bought in Slovakia during my stop at
Bratislava main station two days before:
Reservation Moskva - Novosibirsk, bought in Austria:
I said goodbye to Alexander and punctually at 13:19 the train departed. My
car (fortunately an unmodernized, typical Ammendorf-car) was not full, about
50% of the places were occupied at Moscow. "ekonom klass” is quite expensive
in Russian domestic fare, so people usually prefer to travel in usual cars.
In my compartment there was another man, he was travelling to Amsya, where
the train arrived next day in the morning.
The further train trip to Novosibirsk was not really spectacular. My car got
quite empty during the 2nd day, and I had my own compartment after Amsya.
Hot meals were served two times daily.
At Moskva Kazanskaya station
At Vekovka station:
Train no. 76 Moskva - Tynda was running some minutes ahead of our train (no.
118, Moskva - Novokuznezk) between Moskva Kazanskaya (dep 13:11 and 13:18)
and Sverdlovsk (arr. one day later at 17:09 and 17:17) , and so I often saw
this trains at stations with longer stops...
Compared to the temperatures in Austria or en-route in Slovakia and Ukraine
it was already really cold here in Russia at that time. Maybe 10 degrees,
not more. Whereas on the day before in Ukraine I was happy about the working
air-condition, now I was happy about the working heating ;-)
At Amsya station:
(the locomotives on the signs look rather familiar...)
In the Ural mountains:
Before reaching Druzhinino the two tracks of the railway line take different
ways for about 20 km. It's more like two single-track lines.
Here we met again the westbound track. It looks as they are double-tracking
this line now, maybe it will also be used for eastbound trains in the future
and the line, which is now used by eastbound trains, maybe will then be
Old and new single-track bridge
Again the train to Tynda with through car Moskva - Tommot:
Lake near Yekaterinburg (Sverdlovsk in railway-speech)
Arriving at Sverdlovsk Passashirsky:
Much luggage is loaded in the Kazakh train to Almaty:
Sleeping car Minsk - Almaty:
Sunset east of Yekaterinburg:
Night stop at Tynda:
Traffic light for pedestrians:
Train 54 Harkov - Vladivostok with through car Kiev - Vladivostok.
Train 54 is an interesting train: The actual train is very short, maybe 5
cars are running from Harkov (or points west thereof) to Vladivostok. But
during the ride additional cars are added consequentlyto the head of the
train: Penza - Vladivostok, Samara - Vladivostok, Ufa - Vladivostok,
Celyabinsk - Vladivostok etc. And on the rear end of the train cars are
consequently detached from the train: Harkov - Novosibirsk, Harkov -
Irkutsk, Harkov - Chita, etc.
So the train grows on the head and shrinks on the rear end and so the total
length of the train doesn't vary much. Don't ask me, why they don't run only
for example one Harkov - Vladivostok car instead of one Harkov - Celyabinsk
and one Celyabinsk - Vladivostok. The separation in Celyabinsk can also be
done virtually in the Express-system...
The step of Barabinsk:
Another ChS2 is coupled to train 118:
New EP2K-012 locomotive:
At Ubinskaya train 118 is overtaken by train 54:
The deputy-nachalnik of train no. 118:
At 16:39 the train arrived at Novosibirsk:
Moscow (16:49) and local time (19:49):
At 17:28 I continued with train 601 (Novosibirsk - Biysk) to Barnaul. The
ticket Novosibirsk - Barnaul:
I did the trip in a seating car. At 22:40 (1:40 local time) the train
arrived at Barnaul and I went to the hotel near the station to get some
To be continued...
Should be Tyumen...
Unfortunately I have no photos of the 1st half of the day, as I lost them
due to a mistake when copying files. However, as I have been to Barnaul some
weeks ago during my trip to the solar eclipse in the Altaj mountains (see
http://zatmenie2008.blogspot.com/), that's not a big problem.
I spent the 1st half of the day with a walk in the quite pleasant center of
Barnaul. My train to Novosibirsk was train 626 (Barnaul – Novosibirsk) which
departed at 10: 47 (13:47 local time).
Railway station Barnaul (photo from my previous trip)
Also for this trip I booked a place in a seating-car at
There were only two Barnaul – Novosibirsk cars on this train, the rest of
the train consisted of various through-cars like Biysk – Neryungri and so
At Cherepanovo the two AC EP1 are replaced by a DC ChS2:
On the other track train 301 Novosibirsk – Almaty (KTZ cars and two RZD
through cars Novosibirsk – Leninogorsk):
Seating car from outside:
And from inside (at Novosibirsk, after all passengers already left it, it
was indeed quite full):
The train arrived at Novosibirsk at 15:18.
As I dind't get so much sleep last night, I asked for the "komnata otdykha"
at Novosibirsk station to spend there a part of the waiting time till 20:07
(arrival of train 12 Chelyabinsk – Chita). But the "station-hotel" was
closed for renovation. So I stored my luggage at the left-luggage and
decided to make a walk around Novosibirsk.
Waiting hall at Novosibirsk:
The impressive station from outside:
My walk around Novosibirsk:
Advertisement for the Kitzbühel ski-resort in Austria:
Also Novosibirsk is prepared for the Oktoberfest:
Railway station by night:
EP2K with train no. 1 "Rossiya" (Vladivostok – Moskva):
Train 6 (Moskva – Ulan-Bator) was interesting too: Most passengers were
Mongolian traders, who sold clothes and other stuff during the stop. The
compartments were quite full with their luggage. This "train market" as far
as I know takes only place in the Mongolian train 6 (wednesday from Moscow),
the Russian train no. 6 (thursday from Moscow) is therefore more recommended
As already mentioned, I continued my trip with train no. 12 (Chita –
Chelyabinsk), which stops at Novosibirsk from 20:07 till 20:47 (23:07 till
23:47 local time):
The reservation for this trip:
Again my place was in a men-compartment in a car was additional service. My
compartment was empty when I entered the train, but after 20 minutes another
man came. He was travelling from Novosibirsk to Krasnoyarsk on a
As I was already very tired, I soon went to bed.
I woke up near Bogotol, still four hours before Krasnoyarsk. Nothing special
to tell, the weather was still cold and cloudy…
At Kransoyarsk my fellow passenger got off. Now I was alone in the
compartment, which was a little bit boring…
Krasnoyarsk station (8:56 – 9:16):
Crossing the Yennissey-river:
A video of the river crossing:
Marshalling yard east of Krasnoyarsk:
http://img227.imageshack.us/img227/6056/20080913_006.jpg(BTW, anyone knowing
the purpose of this blue tubes, which can be seen next toi the tracks at
many sttaions in Russia?)
Nice landscape and villages between Krasnoyarsk and Uyar:
Typical Siberian "datchas":
Siberia in autumn – a beautiful landscape!
2TE10 with a special train for track-renewal works:
At Ilanskaya (13:45 – 14:05):
Device for sand-refueling:
VL-80 with a freight train:
Some more landscape photos:
The dinner served from the dining-car:
On this train only one hot meal was included in the ticket. However, for
lunch I could also order a hot meal from the dining car for 120 RUB, which
is quite cheap.
Nowadays there are such warnings on all Russian trains
They say, that the sockets can be used to charge mobile phones, but that
they were only designed for shavers and using them for other electric
devices like mobile phones can lead to damage, for which the the train crew
undertakes no responsibility.
In the morning at 2:13 (7:13 local time) I arrived at Usole-Sibirskoe:
After buying a ticket for the express-elektrichka to Irkutsk in the
afternoon, I walked to the flat of my friends. They live close to the
On the way I noticed that appearently the tramway is now finally extended by
about 500 meters to the railway station:
That was a little, but very positive surprise for me, as Usole-Sibirskoe is
not a big town, where much progress is happening…
I stayed at my friends untill the afternoon. I have not seen them for quite
a long time and my trip to North Korea was a good opportunity to meet again
When walking back to the station together with them, I took another photo of
the tramway construction works:
The ticket for the express-elektrichka (Usole 12:15(17:15) - Irkutsk
The train arrived some minutes late and I got on. Alltough the ticket was
issued via an Express-terminal (but at the "prigorodnaya kassa"), the number
of tickets per train seemed to be unlimited.
As it was sunday afternoon and many students returned to Irkutsk, the train
was full and I had to stand till Angarsk.
The express-elektrichka at Irkutsk Passashirskiy station:
My friend Oliver and his girlfriend were already waiting for me. They
arrived at Irkutsk they day before after already spending some time in
We took the marshrutka no. 72 to reach the "Baikalhostel", where I left my
luggage. Then we went by bus to downtown Irkutsk to have some dinner and
returned to the hostel by taxi at around 23:30.
To be continued...
> Marshalling yard east of Krasnoyarsk:
> (BTW, anyone knowing the purpose of this blue tubes, which can be seen
> next toi the tracks at many sttaions in Russia?)
My guess: compressed air for brake testing. In your photo "Device for
sand-refueling"* you can see a blue pipe with a red valve (?) on the end.
I think this is where a rubber hose can be connected to the train brakes
Meine Idee: Drueckluft fuer Bremsprobe. In Ihre Bilder "Device for
sand-refueling"*, gibts eine blau Rohr mit rot Ventil (?) auf Ende. Ich
denke ist eine Anschluss fuer Gummirohr auf Wagenbremse fuer Pruefung.
As always, you travlogues are totally fascinating.
Thank you - keep travelling and post some more!
Keith (formerly of Bristol UK)
now moved to Berlin/nach Berlin umgezogen
On that day we departed from Irkutsk for Pyongyang. The trip was in the
direct sleeping car Moscow – Pyongyang, which runs twice monthly (11th and
25th at 21:25 from Moscow, 4 days later from Irkutsk). It is a sleeping car
of the North Korean railways, which makes it very interesting. It is
attached to train no. 2 "Rossiya" (Moscow – Vladivostok), one of the most
famous and prestigious trains of Russian railways (RZD). With this train it
runs from Moscow to Ussuriysk, about 100 km before Vladivostok. There it is
detached in the early morning of the 18th and 4th (of course one day earlier
after a month with 31days..) and continues in the afternoon with a local
train to the border station Khasan, where it arrives late evening. Only on
the next day (19th and 5th) at lunch time the sleeping-car crosses the
border to North Korea to Tumangan, from where it leaves in the evening
attached to a domestic Korean train Tumangan – Pyongyang, to arrive finally
at Pyongyang the next evening at 21:25 (20th and 6th of each month). With
10272 km it is now the longest direct train connection in the world. Total
travel time from Moscow to Pyongyang is 211 hours:
| station | arrival | departure | train |
| Moskva Iaroslavskaja | | 21:25| 2MJ |
| Wladimir Pass | 00:18| 00:36| |
| Gorkii Mosk | 03:27| 03:39| |
| Kirow Pass | 09:43| 09:58| |
| Balesino | 13:26| 13:46| |
| Perm 2 | 17:22| 17:42| |
| Swerdlowsk Pass | 23:20| 23:43| |
| Tjumen | 03:58| 04:18| |
| Ischim | 07:51| 08:03| |
| Omsk | 11:17| 11:32| |
| Barabinsk | 15:03| 15:45| |
| Novosibirsk(RUS) | 19:14| 19:33| |
| Taiga | 22:52| 23:03| |
| Mariinsk | 01:17| 01:42| |
| Bogotol | 03:33| 03:35| |
| Achinsk 1 | 04:36| 04:38| |
| Krasnojarsk Pass | 07:25| 07:45| |
| Saosernaja | 10:22| 10:24| |
| Kansk-Enisejskij | 11:34| 11:36| |
| Ilanskaja | 12:06| 12:26| |
| Reschoti | 13:34| 13:36| |
| Tajshet | 14:39| 14:41| |
| Nishneudinsk | 17:13| 17:25| |
| Tulun | 18:53| 18:55| |
| Sima | 20:44| 21:14| |
| Tscheremchowo | 22:52| 22:54| |
| Usole-Sibirskoe | 23:47| 23:49| |
| Angarsk | 00:12| 00:15| |
| Irkutsk-Sort | 00:47| 00:49| |
| Irkutsk Passajirskij | 01:03| 01:33| |
| Sljudjanka 1 | 03:40| 03:42| |
| Ulan-Ude Pass | 08:40| 09:10| |
| Petrowskij Sawod | 11:12| 11:14| |
| Chilok | 13:43| 13:58| |
| Tschita 2 | 18:14| 18:39| |
| Darasun | 19:51| 19:52| |
| Karymskaia | 20:33| 20:51| |
| Shilka-Passajirskai | 23:17| 23:19| |
| Priiskowaja | 00:06| 00:07| |
| Kuenga | 00:47| 00:48| |
| Tschernischewsk-Saba | 01:53| 02:18| |
| Silowo | 03:41| 03:43| |
| Ksenewskaja | 05:47| 05:48| |
| Mogocha | 07:40| 07:55| |
| Amasar | 09:26| 09:46| |
| Erofej Pavlovich | 11:41| 12:02| |
| Uruscha | 13:44| 13:45| |
| Skoworodino | 15:31| 15:33| |
| Magdagatschi | 18:30| 18:45| |
| Tigda | 19:45| 19:47| |
| Schimanowskaja | 21:59| 22:01| |
| Swobodnij | 23:09| 23:12| |
| Belogorsk | 00:03| 00:33| |
| Ekaterinoslawka | 01:47| 01:49| |
| Zavitaia | 02:28| 02:30| |
| Bureia | 03:11| 03:13| |
| Archara | 04:04| 04:07| |
| Oblutsche | 05:55| 06:10| |
| Bira | 08:07| 08:08| |
| Birobidshan | 08:48| 08:51| |
| Chabarowsk 1 | 11:00| 11:30| |
| Wjasemskaja | 13:23| 13:38| |
| Bikin | 15:11| 15:13| |
| Lutschegorsk | 15:55| 15:56| |
| Dalneretschensk 1 | 16:54| 16:55| |
| Rushino | 17:44| 17:59| |
| Spassk-Dalnij | 19:29| 19:31| |
| Mutschnaja | 20:07| 20:08| |
| Sibirzewo | 20:25| 20:27| |
| Ussuriisk | 21:27| | |
| Ussuriisk | | 09:05| 966 |
| Baranovskij | 09:44| 09:46| |
| Olenevod | 10:01| 10:03| |
| Senokosnaya | 10:19| 10:21| |
| Vinevitino | 10:40| 10:42| |
| Provalovo | 11:12| 11:14| |
| Primorskaya | 11:54| 12:09| |
| Kedrovoj | 12:24| 12:26| |
| Bamburovo | 13:01| 13:06| |
| Sukhanovka | 14:10| 14:15| |
| Gvozdevo | 14:43| 14:48| |
| Makhalino | 15:08| 15:13| |
| Khasan | 16:10| | |
| Khasan | | 05:00| |
Korean time is 5 hours ahead of Moscow time
| Tumangan | 10:19| 17:50| 8 |
| Radzhin | 19:47| 20:12| |
| Chhondzhin | 23:20| 23:52| |
| Kilju | 03:58| 04:10| |
| Chamchin | 12:04| 12:28| |
| Kovon | 14:20| 14:41| |
| Pyongyang | 21:25| | |
(I don't know the train number between Khasan and Tumangan...)
There is also a 2nd direct train connection from Moscow to Pyongyang. The
weekly train no. 20 (Moscow – Beijing) conveys direct sleeping cars Moscow –
Pyongyang. They go via China and are detached from the main train at
Shenyang, wait there for some hours and the continue with the Beijing –
Pyongyang train. Departure from Moscow is every friday at 23:55, arrival at
Pyongyang is one week later at 19:30. Distance is 8625 km, travel time
Train no. 2 with the sleeping car to Pyongyang stops at Irkutsk
Passashirskiy station from 1:03 till 1:33 Moscow time, that's 6:03 – 6:33
local time. In Russia the railway everywhere uses Moscow time.
We got up at 5:00 and went to the station with a pre-arranged taxi, as
public transport only starts at around 6:00. It was still dark and cold, and
few other cars were on the street.
Our feelings where quite ambivalent at that time, as we now started an
adventure with an uncertain end – will we succeed to enter North Korea via
Tumangan or will there be problems? All we heard is that this route is not
open for tourists…. so our plan was quite crazy (especially considering what
kind of country North Korea is…) and out of the rules.
I can therefore not recommend trying to repeat what we did and I ask for
your understanding that due to the special situation I can not here or via
e-mail tell more details about our prior preparation and organization of the
trip via Tumangan.
But of course I will tell about what happened in Tumangan and on the further
trip – the travelogue won't stop at Tumangan(Gr).
But now back to Irkutsk in the morning of the 15th September 2008: "Well,
let's forget about the concerns and just go" that's what we thought and did
at this time.
My tickets for this adventure:
Ticket+reservation Irkutsk – Pyongyang:
Ticket+reservation from Khabarovsk to Pyongyang:
Oliver had the same for places 18 and 20, so we had a whole compartment for
us (places 17, 18, 19 and 20).
We arrived at the station at about 5:55. Train 2 was announced to arrive 5
There was still no platform indicated, so we waited. We already noticed some
Korean people with much luggage.
After 5 minutes the platform was announced, so we and many other passengers
went there. I knew that the Korean sleeping car is the 2nd last car of the
train (the last is the through-car Moscow – Komsomolsk, which is detached
from the main train at Khabarovsk), so we went to the Moscow-bound end of
As I already once used this Korean sleeping car for a domestic trip inside
Russia, I knew that it is mainly used for carrying various goods from Russia
to North Korea. It is brought to the stations by Korean people temporarily
living in Russia (for work).
The train finally came in the station and although it was still dark, the
Korean sleeping car could be recognized from the distance, as it looks
different from the Russian cars.
After the train stopped and the conductors opened the door, the Korean
people (there were about 5 of them) began to load their big, heavy cartons
with unknown content. When we approached the door and wanted to show our
tickets, the conductors, who were "guarding" our "entrance-door to North
Korea", said only "zdes neljsa, zdes nelsja, drugoj vagon" (which means
"here forbidden, here forbidden, other vagon"). They even didn't want to
look at the ticket and didn't understand me (or didn't want to) when I said
"my do Phenjana edim" (We are going to Pyongyang). I wanted to show the
passport with the North Korean visa, but it seemed that they didn't want to
have anything to do with us, the conductor only continued saying "drugoj,
russkij vagon" and so on. Around us the Korean people were still loading
stuff and looked at us strange backpackers…
What to do now? Will our plan already fail in Irkutsk?
At this moment a Russian conductor ("provodnik") from the Komsomolsk-bound
sleeping car noticed that we had some problem and came to us. We explained
him the situation.
Then the following happened (you have to know, that the RZD-conductor was
quite tall and wearing the authoritative-looking RZD-uniform): He shouted
"Provodnik!" to the direction of the door of the Korean sleeping car and
gave the man, who reacted, an unmistakable sign to come here. He then showed
him the ticket and – without speaking any word – first pointed to the car
and place number on the tickets, then on us and then towards the Korean
sleeping car. Unbelievable!
In the face of the Korean conductor we could notice his respect for the
Russian conductors and he said only "khorosho, khorosho" – and let us in!
Perfect, the first hurdle is done!
On the corridor of the sleeping car it was quite dark, cold and the air was
smoky. Koreans were shifting cartons around and looking at us like at
aliens. The conductor showed us our compartments and we put down our
backpacks on the beds and left the car again.
Oliver said goodbye to his girlfriend and she took a photo of us with the
North Korean sleeping car:
We were joking that now the "Songun-era" (*) will begin for us ;-)
"Dear Leader Comrade Generalissimo Kim Jong Il's Songun politics are the
lifeblood of the Korean people single mindedly united as one in harmonious
steel-strong rock-hard heroic ranks of invincible mass-valour and undying
loyalty for the Leader and a banner of perpetual victory over the cravenly
cowardly criminal capitalist US imperialists, their satellites, henchmen,
hirelings and servants.
As long as Dear Leader Comrade Generalissimo Kim Jong Il the brilliant
statesman, political genius, prodigious humanist, intellectual giant,
prolific songwriter, superb theorician, and invincible military commander
leads the Juche-based man-centered Korean-style socialist perfect system
freely chosen by the Korean people in single-minded profound respect and
admiration for Dear Leader and his invincible Songun politics, the criminal
capitalist crooked contrived consumerist US imperialists will never defeat,
stifle, or browbeat the great invincible prosperous powerful Democratic
People's Republic of Korea into submission thanks to Dear Leader's
invincible Songun politics that are the lifeblood of the Korean people."
(something similar in German:
Hmmm, let's see how the Songun-era really is…
The train departed on-time at 1:33 (6:33 local time). Apart from us, only
one passenger boarded the sleeping-car in Irkutsk. The other Koreans were
just bringing packages to the train…
The North Korean sleeping car consists of 8 compartments, one of them is
used by the conductors, so 28 places can be sold to passengers. That's the
theory, in reality most compartments are filled with luggage.
Please watch my video at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t1wMqNCeG0w to get
an idea about how it looks like inside the North Korean sleeping car. I've
made the video on my trip from Moskva to Usole-Sibirskoye (within Russia) in
It was cold inside our compartment – no heating, maybe 10 degrees. On the
train which I took from Moscow to Novosibirsk, the provodniza told me, that
the heating-period, during which the train is electrically heated with power
from the locomotive has not yet begun. If it's cold outside this period, the
cars are individually heated with a coal stove, which is located in every
car (this also applies for trains hauled by diesel-locomotives, which can't
provide electrical power for the heating).
However, individual heating requires that coal is available – and this was
not the case in our North Korean sleeping car…
But no problem, we had warm clothes. However, I wonder why they can't just
switch on the electric heating also outside the official heating period…
However, the water-boiler was working, so preparing tea, coffee and
instand-noodles was possible.
15 minutes after Irkutsk one of the conductors came to us to take the
tickets and check our passports. Now he already made a friendlier
I think the conductors just couldn't imagine at all, that backpackers like
we go to Pyongyang, hence their reaction when we wanted to get on...
About 1,5 hours after Irkutsk the Baikal-lake appears outside the
train-window. The train goes down to Slyudyanka and then runs along the
shore for more than 2 hours.
The corridor of the sleeping car:
Inside our compartment:
We found out, that some windows on the corridor-side as well as the window
in the toilet can be opened – good news regarding photos!
The mountains near Slyudyanka:
A small village:
After leaving the Baikal the train route follows the Selenga river up to
Ulan-Ude, which it crosses about 30 minutes before reaching Ulan-Ude:
30 minutes stop at Ulan-Ude
East of Ulan-Ude:
As it was quite cold, the passengers kept their compartment doors closed on
the 1st half of the day. Now in the afternoon it was a little bit warmer (17
degrees according to the thermometer on the corridor) and one young North
Korean passenger started talking with me (in Russian). He said that he was
working as a construction worker at Nishniy Novgorod for one year. Now he
returned to his family, he had a wife and one three-year-old son in
Pyongyang. Of course he was also interested, for what reason we were going
It was just small-talk as usual…
Apart from us, there were only 5 passengers in the sleeping car: The 1st
compartment was the conductors compartment, the 2nd and 3rd were also used
by the conductors to store luggage and to sleep. The 4th compartment was
occupied by the man, who boarded at Irkutsk (the other three beds were full
with luggage). The 5th compartment was ours. In the 6th compartments there
were 4 passengers – one from Moscow, three from Nishniy Novgorod. The 7th
and 8th compartment were again luggage-compartments…
After Irkutsk the number of passengers (but not the quantity of luggage)
remained unchanged till Pyongyang.
Somewhere east of Ulan-Ude there was a quite long section with three tracks:
http://img147.imageshack.us/img147/5683/20080915_093.jpgHowever, I don't
understand, for what reason they've built a 3rd track exact here. The number
of trains here is relatively low, and I think a 3rd track would make more
sense between Omsk and Novosibirsk, where the train frequency is really high
(on my way between Omsk and Novosibirsk I counted the passing freight trains
between 9:53 and 10:27: 9:53, 9:55, 9:59, 10:03, 10:07, 10:10, 10:13, 10:15,
10:17, 10:27 – this line is really full with trains).
At Petrovskiy Zavod:
This trip was also my first trip on the Transsiberian railway east of
Ulan-Ude. And I was very impressed by the landscape here. The terrain is
hilly and the area is even less populated than the more western parts of
Russia. And the coulours of the autumn made it even more beautiful:
I the late evening (18:14 – 18:39, 0:14 – 0:39) the train stopped at Chita.
On the square in front of the station there is a nice church:
The station building:
On the platform:
The five conductors:
Fortunately we had enough blankets in our compartment, so it was not too
cold for sleeping. In the morning the temperature was 7 degrees on the
corridor and maybe 5 degrees warmer in the compartment…
Landscape between Zilovo and Ksenyevskaya:
As I have noticed that the conductors have power outlets in their
compartment, I asked them whether I could charge my electric shaver there.
They were just having lunch and it was not only possible to use the outlet
for my purpose, they also invited me to have lunch together with them in
their compartment. Now they all were very friendly and I explained them our
trip by drawing a world-map with the route from Vienna to Pyongyang. Of
course – no such lunch without some Korean schnaps…
The food was very tasty too: Meat, rice, soup, kimchi (see
The service compartment next to their compartment was used as kitchen, there
they had two cooking plates – with electric connections, which don't really
comply with European safety regulations… ;-)
Between Ksenyevskaya and Mogocha (video):
Approaching Mogocha (sheduled stop 4:40 – 4:55):
VL-60 with victory day inscriptions:
Between Mogocha and Amazar (video with passing freigh train):
The next stop was at Amazar (9:26 – 9:46):
Russian village life:
Here we bought some delecious "vareniki"
(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Varenyky) from the "babushka":
It seemed that here such private "shops" are forbidden on the platform (as
it's usual at many other stations). No problem, then the "shops" are just
located on the other side of the fence surrounding the platform…
Erofey Pavlovich (11:41 – 12:02):
EP1-309 with train no. 2 "Rossiya":
West of Erofey-Pavlovich there are some serpentines:
Travelling in the North Korean sleeping car through such a vast landscape
gives you already a cut-off-from-the-rest-of-the-world-feeling, alltough we
where still in Russia…but already somehow isolated. It was really strange.
Maybe to overcome this feeling we decided to visit the dining-car – just to
ensure that the rest of the world still exists…
The dining car was not – as usual – located in the middle of the train, but
after the 1st sleeping car (totally the 4th car, behind the locomotice there
were 3 luggage and/or post cars). So it was a relatively long walk. The
Russian sleeping cars were all very modern and clean, the heating was
working – also quite a contrast to our North Korean sleeping car. Of course
we never had regrets, that we made this trip to North Korea and and an old
sleeping car is also much more interesting than this modern stuff – but I
think nevertheless you can understand the ambivalent feelings…
The dining car was nice, the service was friendly, the menu also in
english – the rest of the world still exists ;-)
First we were the only guests, but then some other guests came. They also
were tourists from Europe.
We talked with two of them, they were a couple from Switzerland, travelling
to Habarovsk, then to Vladivostok and then by ship to Japan. They also did
the whole trip from Switzerland by train, using the Basel-Moscow sleeping
car. And we found out that the man was working at the Kanton Solothurn and
was there responsible for organizing local public transport. So especially
Oliver (he is a SBB-employee) had some interesting topics to discuss…
Somewhen after passing Skovorodino we returned to our sleeping-car.
To be continued...
> Somewhere east of Ulan-Ude there was a quite long section with three
> http://img147.imageshack.us/img147/5683/20080915_093.jpgHowever, I don't
> understand, for what reason they've built a 3rd track exact here. The
> of trains here is relatively low, and I think a 3rd track would make more
> sense between Omsk and Novosibirsk, where the train frequency is really
Thank you very much for this very interesting travelogue.
At least I can provide an explanation for that 3 track section.
The third track was built in the steam time when most trains needed an
assistant engine over that (steep) part of the line and the third track was
used simply to return those engines running alone back to the starting
I love it:
<pivo> - <beer> right in front of the Russ. Orthodox Kirke.
on Wed, 15 Oct 2008 00:55:42 GMT, "Lennart Petersen"
That's the Yablonovo (Yablonovsky) mountain ridge.
During the night the train went several 100 kilometers southwards and when
we woke up we already noticed that it was not that cold and that the trees
outside were still mostly green.
At the short stop at Arkhara (4:04 - 4:07) we passed a long container-train:
This long container-cars for two 40-feet-containers are relatively new in
Russia, from the inscriptions we gathered that they have been built since
A tunnel between Arkhara and Obluche:
The line makes some serpentines, in the background you can see the tracks,
which we had passed some minutes before:
As you can see, the train was running on the left track at this tunnel, the
other track seemed to be closed for works.
At Obluche (5:55 - 6:10)
The usual station market:
Detail of the inscriptions on the North Korean sleeping car:
After Obluche we passed about five westbound freight trains, which were
waiting on the other track one after each other. Maybe this had something to
do with the single-track operation at the tunnel west of Obluche.
The distance between the end of one train and the locomotive of the
following train was sometimes only about 200 meters - a real railway traffic
Here you can see a waiting freight train in the background:
Another freight train:
One more tunnel, the second tunnel-pipe was under reconstruction:
We didn't expect such a hilly terrain and tunnels here. Maybe the alignment
would have been easier, if the line was built along the Amur-river, but the
Russians had strategic reasons to build the line not too close to the
Chinese border, which goes along the Amur river.
At Birobidzhan (8:48 - 8:51) - administrative center of the "Jewish
See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Birobidzhan and
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jewish_Autonomous_Oblast for more information.
An express-elektrichka to/from Khabarovsk:
At Birobidzhan two female train revisors boarded the train and of course the
spent a lot of time in the Korean sleeping car. The checked all tickets and
had some discussions with our conductors and the counted the number of
passengers and luggage in each compartment. Of course it was too much, as
only 35 kg of luggage is allowed per ticket. And there were only 7 tickets
for the whole car, but luggage enough for about 50 or more tickets.
They were friendly to us, as we were the only passengers who didn't exceed
the luggage limitations.
I don't now how the problem was finally solved, but I assume that the Korean
conductors had to pay some fine ("shtraf"), maybe one part as an official
fine, and rest inofficially. ;-)
We also think, that it was no coincidence that the revisors checked train
no. 2 on a day, when the twice-monthly North Korean sleeping car was
attached. I'm sure they know how to earn money.
When the train approached Khabarovsk it was diverted to the left track and
we overtook several freight trains - another railway traffic congestion.
Freight train with new tanks:
Near Khabarovsk - you can see the rear of another freight train waiting on
the right track:
The impressive single-track bridge crossing the Amur:
It is a combined road-railway bridge:
However, the railway line is single-track only. I've heard there there is
also a single-track railway tunnel under the Amur river, but this is not
used by passenger trains.
At Khabarovsk (11:00 - 11:30, that's 18:00 - 18:30 local time):
About 10 Koreans were waiting for the train here. They were no passengers,
but just loading even more stuff.
The sleeping-car to Komsomolsk was uncoupled here.
In front of the station:
The North Korean sleeping car to Pyongyang:
It was quite a wonder that this tower of luggage (designated for a Russian
postal-luggage train) didn't collapse, when the vehicle went over the bumpy
The train some kilometres after we left Khabarovsk:
After Khabarovsk we planned to take a shower in one of the Russian cars. In
the "Rossiya" there is one special car, where there is a shower. The evening
before, when we went to the restaurant, we asked the conductor of this car
about the conditions to use the shower. The price is 100 RUB and she asked
us, at which time we would come, so that she can switch on the water-heating
for the shower early enough. We decided to come there after Khabarovsk. It
was about at the middle of our trip to Pyongyang.
Now I wanted to go the Russian cars, but I had to find out that due to the
new luggage loaded at Khabarovsk the door to the next car was blocked:
I had to rearrange all that stuff to open the door for a narrow slot, just
wide enough to get through.
Having a shower after 3 days on the train was then quite good. ;-)
By the way, on that day the temperature inside the sleeping car reached 20
degrees and also in the evening and during the following night it was not
To be continued
>To be continued
funny, looks like a real Yellow Cab from New York:
> Having a shower after 3 days on the train was then quite good. ;-)
Oh yes, so true. I travelled _from_ Khabarovsk to Irkutsk once, and at
the end of these three days, the train became really disagreeable.
The "Rossiya" stops in Ussuriysk from 21:27 till 21:45, that's from 4:27
till 4:45 local time. The North Korean sleeping car is uncoupled here,
whereas the main train continues to Vladivostok where it arrives at 21:48
(6:48 local time) after a trip of 9258 kilometers and 146 hours and 23
The sleeping car to Pyongyang continues its trip only in the afternoon at
9:05 (16:05 Moscow) time, so the stop at Ussuriysk lasts nearly 12 hours.
When we woke up, it was already 9:00 in the morning (local time). I looked
out of the window, the car was parked somewhere on a side-track.
After a short breakfast we left the car to explore the area. There was no
platform and no passenger station visible. We were at a freight depot. The
whole area was fenced off. On another track Japanese 2nd-hand cars were
loaded to a special freight train for transporting automobiles. They will be
used somewhere in Russia. I've heard that the ferries running between
Vladivostok and Niigata in Japan usually transport no cars eastbound, but
are full with used Japanese cars westbound, which are imported by Russian
Our sleeping car:
"Custom control zone"
We also wondered where the westbound Korean sleeping car was parked.
According to the timetable the Pyongyang - Moscow sleeping car is due to be
in Ussuriysk on the same dates (4th and 18th of each month) as the Moscow -
Pyongyang sleeping car: It should arrive from Pyongyang at 0:50 (7:50 local
time) and depart at 17:12 (0:12 local time) attached to train no. 1
"Rossiya" (Vladivostok - Moskva).
We asked our conductors in which direction the station was located, then
told them that we want to explore the station and the town and that we would
would return only after some hours. We left our luggage inside the
compartment. Also the other passengers and some of the conductors seem to
have gone away - maybe the enjoy their last day in freedom.
It was quite warm and due to the humid air one could also feel, that the sea
is not far away. We went to the end of the freight depot and left it at a
gate. There were some Russian officials, but nobody was interested, what we
were doing here. Then we were on a road on which we walked to the station.
According to GoogleEarth it was about 650 meters (as the crow flies) south
of our parked sleeping car:
The station was currently under renovation. Train 351 (Sovetskaya Gavan -
Vladivostok) just arrived:
There was a pedestrian bridge over the rails, of course weh ad to go there
to take some more photos.
Modernized 3TE10 diesel locomotives:
When I looked around, I suddenly noticed a car which already from the
distance looked different than the others. I used the zoom-function of my
camera to proof, what I suspected -and of course it was the sleeping car
Pyongyang - Moscow.
New electro-locomotive 3ES5K "Yermak" with a long freight train:
These locomotives are built by Transmashholding (http://eng.tmholding.ru/)
since 2004, initially as 2ES5K, since 2007 with additional booster as 3ES5K.
Power - 9840 kW, traction force - 696 kN (one hour rating).
More details are available here:
During my trip I noticed that new locomotives like the "Yermak" are becoming
more and more common in Russia. Somewhere in the future they will replace
the traditional Russian freight locomotives like VL10 and VL80..
Of course we ad to inspect the train with the sleeping car Pyongyang -
Moscow. Apart from the North Korean car the train Khasan - Ussuriysk
consists of three Russian cars - one "plazkartniy" (dormitory-style beds),
one "kupe" (4-bed-compartments) and one "obshchiy" (like plazkartniy, but
used as seating car with 81 instead of 4 passengers):
In front of the station:
The men in red, which arrived with the train from Sovetskaya Gavan, were
North Korean sportsmen.
Good bye, Lenin - now we are going to Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il!
Advertisement of the "Primorskiy institute of railway transportation"
offering education for railway professions:
We asked how to get to downtown Ussuriysk, people told us to go by bus, as
it is too far away to walk. At the bus stop we were quite surprised to find
a detailed bus timetable listing all departure times of the urban busses.
Later we found out, that such timetables don't only exist at the station,
but at all other bus-stops, we saw. Such good passenger information is rare
in Russia, and I wouldn't have expected it in a relatively small town in the
Russian Far East! But progress happens!
In general the town made a nice and very clean impression. Also there seemed
to be a relatively wide selection of hotels, which is also unusual for
provincial towns in Russia. I assume that the fact that China is not far
(only 50 km to the border) boosts trade and economy in this part of Russia.
More about Ussuriysk: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ussuriysk
After some shopping and a lunch at a small "shashlyk"-café we went back to
The North Korean sportsmen were still there. I asked them where they come
from and where they go now and found out that they were a volleyball-team,
which had a game in Khabarovsk and now return to Pyongyang.
Meanwhile our sleeping car had been shunted to the station and attached to
the train from/to Khasan. So we didn't need to walk back.
Freight train with some new excavators:
The safety marking on the platform was painted new:
Woman with her mail-trolley, waiting for the luggage/mail-train:
Luggage/mail-train 903 from Vladivostok to Moscow:
While we were taking photos, two policemen approached us. However, they just
wanted to see my passport and asked what we were doing here. I explained
that we are going to Korea and that we are railway employees in Europe and
are just interested in the railway in Russia. I asked whether it's forbidden
to take photos here, the answer was no, they were just interested why we
take photos. So, everything was OK, and the two friendly policemen went
At 15:35 (local time) a TEM2 shunter came to the train to Khasan and pulled
the 4 cars to the platform. The Korean sleeping car TO Moscow of course
remained at the end of the siding.
The train at the platform:
2TE10MK-1278 was attached to the train:
The Korean sportsmen boarded the "obshchiy"-car:
Punctually at 9:05 (16:05 local time) train 966 left. The train uses the
Transsiberian main line along the Ussuriy-river for the first kilometres...
...before it branches off at Baranovskiy and crosses the Ussuriy river:
So, now we were already leaving the usual tourist-routes - North Korea, we
The speed on this branch line is also slower than on the main line and the
train stops more often. The 260km-trip from Ussuriysk to Khasan therefore
takes 7 hours.
Two hours after leaving Ussuriysk I saw the Pacific Ocean for the first time
in my life:
In the background Vladivostok could be seen:
Train 965/966 is the only passenger train on this route, but we saw quite a
lot freight trains at the stations we passed.
The landscape here is beautiful and nature seems untouched. And the whole
area seems quite unsettled.
Sunset was at about 20:15. Three more hours in the darkness till Khasan, the
last Russian village before the border to the mysterious "Hermit Kingdom".
Finally at about 23:00 (local time) the train arrived at Khasan. There were
only a few passengers getting off. The station building was brightly
illuminated. It's a strange, quiet atmosphere at an interesting place. It's
not only the fact, that North Korea is only 1600 meters away. Also China is
Russia and North Korea only have a 17-km long common border along the
Tumen-river. Only a railway bridge, the so-called "friendship-bridge",
opened on 9th august 1959, crosses the border. The point, where Russia,
China and North Korea meet, is only 200 or 300 meters west of the bridge in
the middle of the river Russia..
A Soviet military map (1:100.000) of the area:
So, it's quite an exciting place in a geopolitical sense.
See for more maps at http://img442.imageshack.us/img442/8302/k5217xm6.jpg
(scale 1:200.000, please note the remark "secret") and
http://img122.imageshack.us/img122/6442/500kk522gl2.jpg (scale 1:500.000).
There is no legal way to cross the Russian-Chinese border near Khasan, so it
is indeed an very isolated village.
Some photos I found at Google Earth:
The border between Russia and China:
View from the Russian side:
..and from the Chinese side:
Shortly after arrival a female Russian railway employee came to the Korean
sleeping car, together with an - obviously - Korean men. They sat down in
the conductors compartment.
After some time we were called to come there. Together with the conductors
they were filling out a list with all passengers, who would cross the border
the next day. The Korean man seemed to be a translator, he spoke fluently
Russian and Korean. All were very friendly.
However, they were quite surprised to meet Austrian and Swiss citizen. They
wanted to see our passports and asked whether we have documents to enter the
Democratic People's Republic of Korea. We answered that we have valid
DPRK-visas and showed them in the passport. They were content with it and
wrote our names and passport details on the list.
The woman said, that we can now walk around at the station, but that taking
photos is not allowed.
So we left the train. The Korean sportsmen were sitting on the stairs from
the platform to the station building. There were several video-cameras, so
taking photos was indeed out of the question.
Most of the station building was dark. Only the most northern part was
accessible, the other doors were closed. We entered the station building.
Inside there were some waiting benches, a ticket counter and a police
office. There were also some people - the train back to Ussuriysk leaves at
about 1:00 (local time) in the night.
The timetable listed - beside train fom/to Ussuriysk - also two so-called
"working trains" (rabochnye poezda) to/from Gvozdevo, maybe better
translated as mixed trains. Trains over the border were not listed, but I
knew that there is not only the twice-monthly sleeping car Moscow -
Pyongyang, but also twice weekly a local cross border passenger train
Khasan - Tumangan.
While we were looking around, a policeman came out of his offices. He asked
us for our passports and what we were doing here. We answered that we were
going to Pyongyang.
I should tell, that access to border areas in Russia is limited and usually
requires a special permit. No permits are of course required for people
living in this area and for those who are only in transit - like we.
The policeman was satisfied with our explanation. I asked him, 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 foreigners (except North Koreans, of
course), he met.
We went back to the sleeping-car. The woman and the Korean translator just
left the sleeping car. I also asked them about other third country citizen
crossing the border. 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. See
There are travel agencies organizing trips to sea-resorts in this zone. See
http://www.parallel-dv.ru/607823777/6157108086 (Russian travel agency
offering trips) and
We went back to our compartment. Meanwhile the platform was empty, the
Korean sportsmen disappeared somewhere. The train back to Ussuriysk had
already left, it was totally quiet. Now we are really at the end of the
world, or at least of the world, too which we are used.
Now I could take two photos out of the train window:
After some time we decided to went to bed. There was just one problem - I
needed a toilet, but the toilet in the car was locked, as were the doors of
the car. However, the front doors of the car were not locked, so also this
problem was solved.
We woke up at around 8 in the morning. Today the "songun-era" begins, we
were joking. After breakfast we left the sleeping car for a walk on the
platform. The sleeping car was standing alone on track 1. Track 2, 3 and 4
were empty, on the other tracks there were some freight cars. But they were
already out of service and waited for better times. We also noticed one
track with 4 rails - Russian broad gauge (1520mm) and Korean standard gauge
(1435mm). But the standard gauge rails seemed to be unused. This station had
already seen better times with more traffic.
The only activity were some workers removing grass growing between the
At about 9:00 the mixed train from Gvozdevo arrived on track 3. It was
pulled by a TEM2 and consisted of one "obshchiy"-car and some freight cars.
We saw no passengers leaving it.
From the distance we took this photo of the station:
We went back to the wagon. After some time a Russian man in civilian clothes
came and collected our passports. He then disappeared in the station
Alltough we bought some bread at Ussuriysk, we now thought that it might not
be enough for the further trip to Pyongyang. So I asked some Russians for a
shop. It was close to the station on the main-road of the village.
After some time the man returned to us. He asked me for my Russian
registration stamp on the immigration card (which I received when I entered
Russia). I explained that I have only travelled across Russia without long
stops and showed him the entry-stamp of Bryansk.
He gave us our passports. It seemed as this was not the real, final passport
check, as we also received our immigration cards back. They have been
stamped, but the passport wasn't.
After that I could take two more photos out of the vagon:
At about 10:15 the real border check began. Uniformed men and women entered
the sleeping car. They again took our passports with them.
After some time the customs official came. We had just to answer the usual
questions regarding alcohol and cigarettes, whereas the Korean conductors
and passengers had to open all their packages. I don't know whether they had
to pay a fine, but I assume that also the customs officials get their share
of the profit generated by this kind of trade.
Then another soldier came, he removed all kind of coverings and also the
backrests of the beds to check whether there is something hided behind...
After about one hour the passports were returned to us. With the exit-stamp
in our passport we passed the "point of no return".
My Russian visa.
Already the Khasan-stamp was a trophy for us, let's see whether we will get
something more interesting.
The scheduled departure time was at 12:00 (5:00 Moscow time). Still nearly
one hour. The TEM2-locomotive of the train from Gvozdevo moved to track 1
together with the "obshchiy"-car and these two vehicles were coupled to our
sleeping-car to form the cross-border train.
Soldiers surrounded the small train and the rest of the platform was fenced
off with barrier tapes.
Then one of the doors (which had been closed the evening before) of the
station building opened and in intervals of about one minute about 15
Russian passengers for the "obshchiy"-car came out and went to the train.
Apparently the southern part of the station building is used for passport
and custom checks for other passengers than those of the direct sleeping
car. After the Russian passengers also the Korean sportsmen (they were 17)
came there one after each other and boarded the "obshchiy"-car.
Whereas all Russian citizen entered at the front-end, all Korean passengers
entered at the rear-end of the wagon. And all passports were double-checked
at the wagon-door by a Russian border official.
Finally, at about 11:50 all passengers seemed to be on-board. Some minutes
later the engine started and a Russian soldier boarded our wagon at the
rear-end. At about 12:05 we left Khasan station.a very exciting moment.
The distance from the station to the bridge is about 1,5 km. The train went
slowly with about 30 km/h. The rails were surrounded by fences.
Just in front of the bridge there was a small platform and the train stopped
here. The Russian soldiers left the train. There were some military
buildings around - of course not a good place to take photos. However, at
http://udaff.name/mir/zvukorezh_dvr/ I found a photo of the sign "Rossiya -
KNDR" (KNDR = Koreyskaya Narodnaya Demokraticheskaya Respublika" =
Democratic People's Republic Korea), which I have embedded to this
Also this photo of Kim Jong Ils special train was taken here:
(in 2001 Kim Jong Il met with Vladimir Putin in Moscow, as Kim Jong Il is
afraid of flying, he travelled with his special train.)
Some more photos of the bridge, which I found on the internet:
Photos taken from China:
View from China towards Tumangan:
Again the bridge:
After a few minutes the train rolls on... we are approaching the "Friendship
Bridge" to North Korea.
The gate, which can be seen on this photo, is now open..
Slowly we run over the bridge... what will happen on the other end of it?
How will the border guards react? Will there be problems? We don't know it
To be continued...
Recalling my trip from KH to Irkutsk in '92, our car was second from
the loco. To get to the <PECTOPAH>/restaurant car, we had to traipse
through about eight other coaches which were to say the least rather
Helmut: take note of the watch tower in your pic 20080917_090.jpg...
I hadn't noticed any in your earlier pictures of bridges and tunnels,
but in '92 (for me) they were obvious at a lot of strategic points.
After the middle of the bridge we already had North Korean territory below
the wheels. There were people under the bridge, they were working on some
kind of field.They beckoned to us and we beckoned to them. We were surprised
that they could be there just so close to the border.
Finally we reached the end of the bridge, which was guarded by some
soldiers. A picture of the north Korean end of the brige, which I found
somewhere on the internet:
After a left turn, also guarded by soldiers say every 100 meters, we ran
into the station of Tumangan. There were many tracks, but they all were
empty. We didn't reach the final passenger station, but stopped before.
Soldiers were entering the two wagons.
Our sleeping-car was divided from the other wagon and we were shunted to the
regauging facility (North Korea uses normal gauge - 1435mm), which was
located north of the main tracks. During that shunting one soldiers went
through the sleeping-car to have a first look at the passengers. He was
quite surprised to see us two, and considering his facial expression I
imagined that he was thinking something like "Oh, hm, ah, hm. Who are they?
What to do now?" because he didn't expect to meet other cititzen than North
The sleeping car was parked at the the regauging facility. A female soldier
came in and wanted to see our passport. She had a look at them and then gave
them back to us.
Several other soldiers who hastily ran up and down on the corridor just had
a short look at us.
There was a high loading platform outside and after some time a minibus (I
think it was a Toyota...) arrived. Inside there were even more soldiers,
maybe four or five. They jumped down to the track and entered the
sleeping-car. Did they come especially for us?
We are not sure, but we think so... they came to our compartment. I said
"Zdravstvujte" and one of them answered in Russian. He spoke Russian and
then sat down on my bed. A colleague sat down opposite on Olivers bed. He
asked us "Speak english?"
So at least communciation was no problem. Two other soldiers were standing
in the door, one of them had many medals on his uniform. The
Russian-speaking soldier introduced him as their commandant. I tested my
best Korean and said "Annyonghaseyo" and he smiled back.
Our two "translators" (they were about 30-40 years old) then wanted to see
our passports. They thoroughly checked our visas and asked for where we were
going and for what purpose (I answered by pointing on the Korean word next
to the words "Purpose of entry" on my visa...). They asked for our
nationality and I had the impression that they initially didn't exactly
understand from what country I was from. I don't know how Austria is said in
Korean language, and they didn't seem to know the Russian word "Avstriya". I
finally tried to explain by drawing a map and saying that "Avstriya" is
"nedaleko" (close) to "Germaniya"...
They sat quite a while with us and asked us also what was our job, what we
knew about North Korea, how our media is reporting abouth North Korea, how
we think about the United States, whether we have been there or were
planning to go there, what we were thinking about Kim Jong Il and so on…of
course we answered diplomatically.
However, they were always friendly and we had the impression that they were
also very interested to talk with Europeans. Maybe it was the first time in
their life they could do that.
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.
Finally they put the long-awaited stamp in our passport.
Now we had officially entered North Korea via Tumangan! "The Songun-era
began", we were joking...
The stamp was a real trophy and maybe few people understand the special
meaning it had for us and why we took all the potential risks just to get
this stamp. Relatives and friends consider me quite crazy...
After that a customs official came into our compartment. The other two
remained as translators. We were each given a customs declaration form (in
english). And of course we had to open our backpacks and had to show nearly
every single item which was inside. Filling in the customs declaration was a
little bit chaotic, something we wrote down accordning to the questions,
some items we listed because the official wanted that we list it. Some
things he wrote himself on the declaration in Korean language. He was very
interested in our books and checked them, but they were quite harmless: A
RZD timetable, a Russian railway atlas, a travel-guide about "Molvania" and
so on. Also cameras, my laptop and several USB-sticks drew attention.
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...
One of Olivers CDs also drew attention, as on it's cover some some "lightly"
dressed women were shown. They asked whether the CD contains some kind of
pornography, but were content with the explanation that it only contains
Finally it seemed that the customs declaration was complete. We were told
that we would have to show this declaratiuon when we leave North Korea and
that we must not leave any single item listed on it in North Korea:
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
Meanwhile the regauging procedure was nearly finished. Due to the long
immigration and customs check we didn't notice much of the regauging.
I don't remember how much time passed since we arrived at Tumangan (at about
10:30 local time = 12:30 local time in Khasan = 5:30 Moscow time), but I
think it was something like two or three hours.
Now we could leave the sleeping car – the first steps on North Korean
territory. The regauging facility here was quite old and in a bad condition,
but it obviously worked. It was only designed for two passenger wagons to be
regauged simultaneously, but that seemed enough…
The other passengers went away to the station. The loading platform seemed
not be used for loading freight anymore, but as a public road. Several
people came about on foot, by bike or by moped.
After some time the minibus, which brought the soldiers, arrived again. The
conductors said that they now would have lunch somewhere and and would lock
the sleeping car. They asked us whether we would like to join them, but we
decided to stay here. Maybe it would have been the better decision to join
them, as this would have been an unforgettable experience.
Then they left using the minibus.
We were standing next to the sleeping-car at the regauging facility of
Tumangan. No soldier, no guide, no conductor... nobody took care of us or
what we did...
We were really surprised about so much freedom in North Korea! Usually
something like that is totally impossible for tourists in North Korea...
At this point, some basic information about tourism in North Korea:
Tourists can travel to North Korea only under a pre-arranged trip. All trips
are guided and the guides wait for the tourists at the station or airport at
Pyongyang (apart from special resorts for Russian or South Korean tourists,
all trips start and end in Pyongyang). Most tourists travel to North Korea
in a group, but also individual trips are possible, but also if somebody
travels alone, he/she will be accompanied by two guides and one driver. It
is not allowed to leave the hotel without the guides.
During the time in North Korea tourists make various excursions to sights in
Pyongyang and other regions of North Korea. However, only the typical
tourist hot spots can be visited and the schedule has to be planned in
advance also for individual tourists.
After arrival in Pyongyang all transportation is by car or chartered bus.
Using public transport – apart from two stops of the Pyongyang underground –
is impossible for tourists...
We then just sat on the loading platform and watched the scenery. A diesel
shunting engine was pulling the Russian "plazkartniy"-wagon somewhere. I am
not sure now, but I think it was a North Korea engine, which would mean that
the North Korean railways have broad-gauge engines?
Nothing else happened. As said earlöier, all tracks were empty and no
evidence for intense cross-border freight traffic could be seen.
South of the tracks there was a maize field and some people were working
there. We noticed music coming from loudspeakers somewhere. Maybe
propaganda-songs to motivate the workers?
However, after some time sitting here was too boring and we decided to walk
to the station and just try, whether somebody would stop us…
But nothing happened. We could easily walk to the station. The first part
was on the loading platform, then on a small road next to the tracks. There
were many people walking, cycling or moving by ox-cart there. Of course they
looked at us, but didn't pay much attention.
I think we were not a big sensation for them, as they often see Russian
people here and were now maybe thinking that we were Russian too. However, I
assume that the Russian tourists usually arriving here at Tumangan can't
walk around the station as we did, but that they are after immigration and
customs immideately picked up and brought by bus to the sea-resorts designed
On the tracks we saw about five persons who were digging around in the track
ballast (well, it was just a mixture of sand and stones…). Apparently it was
there job, but it just dispersed dust; of course such work doesn't help to
improve the inferiour track condition...
After some time the road crossed the tracks and leaded to the platform. On
the platform there was an obelisk with some inscriptions as well as a big
stone-board with a Kim-Il-Sung portrait.
We went to the station building, which was located some more meters in the
west. There were other people on the platform, but also they didn't pay much
attention to us.
The total distance from the regauging facility was about one kilometer:
When we reached the main buliding of the station a woman aproached us and
asked us (in Russian) whether we would like to visit the shop inside the
The shop appeared to be a souvenir-shop aimed at Russian tourists. Of course
I couldn't resist to buy some old Pyongyang-postcards – "Shopping at
After that we walked to the gate, where the road, on which we came, left the
station area. We passed it and nobody prevented us from walking some meters
on the main street of Tumangan. It was not asphalted and on the other side
of the road there were some small houses.
I think we could have walked even more inside the village, but we thought
that it was maybe better not to overstrain the freedom...
We then returned to the sleeping-car. Nobody was there and it was still
locked. So we waited. It was already about 15:00. The position of the sun
was ideal for taking photos, but our cameras where somewhere at the customs
After some time a car (the same minibus again) came and two of the
conductors got off. They opened the door and now we finally could have some
lunch inside our compartment.
About half an hour later the car came again and the custom official and one
of the soldiers gave us our customs declaration, but not our stuff. They
said that they would give it to us later after the sleeping-car would have
been shunted to the platform.
Maybe 15 minutes later a diesel locomotive approached our sleeping car. It
was a relatievly new locomotive and obviously bought 2nd hand from China.
The sleeping car was coupled to it and we where shunted to another track
closer to the station.
We then decided to walk once more to the station. I thought that maybe we
could ask for the customs office to get our stuff back.
The domestic train no. 7 from Pyongyang to Tumangan still had not arrived.
According to the Russian timetable (the timetable attached on the corridor
inside our sleeping-car only listed stations from Moscow till Khasan - no
timetable for North Korea...) it was due to arrive here at 10:40, but now it
was already 16:30...
And it should leave Tumangan for Pyongyang at 17:50. There were already some
passengers in the waiting room inside the station building. Some noticed us
standing on the platform and looked at us with interested eyes...
We debated whether we should go in and raise even more attention... after
some time we decided to go in. Nothing happened, people were looking at us
while we studie the timetable and the fare-table attached on a wall. The
timetable listed two train-pairs: Trains 7/8 from/to Pyongyang (but with a
departure time slightly differing from the RZD timetable – 17:00 from
Tumangan) and a train-pair with 900-numbers from/to some other place.
The fare table listed fares to various destinations. For every destination
two different prices were listed, maybe different classes or for adults and
children. The price range was up to maybe 5000 won, if I remember correctly.
And of course there were portraits of the two Kims, overlooking the
Back on the platform again, I approached an official and asked him whether
he spoke Russian. He did! I asked him for the way to the customs office and
he told me that it was located at the western end of the platform and that
the entrance was labeled also in Russian.
We went there and found the door, but it was closed. But next to it there
was an open window and through it we saw a woman working on a computer and
in the background we saw our our small backpacks.
With some Russian words we drew attention to ourselves. The woman didn't
understand us, but she called somebody else. Another customs official came
to the window and started to speak to us – in French!!!
I don't speak French, but fortunately Oliver's French knowledge is quite
good and so he could explain the situation. They officer was friendly and
told us to use the side-entry to get in. We then could take our stuff and
the officer wanted that we check, whether everything was still there.
Everything was complete and with "merci beaucoup" and "au revoir" we left
the customs office of Tumangan....
Now I had of course to try to take some photos. And it was possible without
problems...however, I tried to behave not too eye-catching.
The main building and the only platform:
The entrance with the typical Kim-Il-Sung portrait – from now on the Great
Leader was always with us...
The obelisk and the stone-plate with another Kim-Il-Sung picture…
We walked back to the sleeping car:
The sleeping-car Moscow – Pyongyang at Tumangan:
Next to it there were some freight cars:
Some locomotives parked on another track:
I'm not sure whether all of them were still working...
Empty tracks leading to Russia:
The loading platform and the regauging facility. In the background you can
see the woman, who was the first to check our passports after we arrived and
some persons sitting on the track and digging around...
We returned to our sleeping-car. A building next to it:
Finally, at about 18:15, train no. 7 from Pyongyang arrived. It was quite
The Chinese diesel locomotive came again and our sleeping car was then
attached to the Pyongyang-bound end of the train.
During the shunting maneuver:
Please excuse the bad photo quality, but for the parts of my travelogue
concerning North Korea I decided to publish also photos of inferior quality,
if they show something interesting. I think that photos from this part of
the world are quite rare and therefore I'd like to show as much photos as
possible. I hope this is OK for you.
Most of the wagons were seating cars. There were two sleeping-cars and one
seating car with two pantographs. Maybe it was some kind of buffet/dining
car, but the window arrangement didn't differ from the other cars. Or maybe
it was a special wagon, from which the other wagons are supplied with
electrical power (instead of directly from the locomotive)?
Sunset at Tumangan:
Later the electric locomotive together with two luggage cars was attached to
the train. However, it seemed as there were technical problems with one of
the luggage cars, so they had to put this wagon out of the train again.
So we still had some time to walk around at the platform. Meanwhile it was
dark and there were no lights, the platform was in total darkness. There
were quite many passengers boarding the train and also much railway staff
commanding the passengers by blowing their whistles...
Finally, after some more whistling and after the train-horn sounded several
times the train started moving towards Pyongyang at 20:00 – with two hours
The sound of the train rumbling over the track with about 40 km/h is
undescribable, the rail joints follow in very short intervals and the gaps
between the rails seem to be quite big compared to other countries, which
causes an unusual fast and loud "tatak-tatak" despite the low speed...
So we jingled through the dark night – the only lights outside are visible
in the north, across the river in China...
That's the timetable for the further trip to Pyongyang according to the
| station | arrival | departure | train |
| Tumangan | 10:19| 17:50| 8 |
| Radzhin | 19:47| 20:12| |
| Chhondzhin | 23:20| 23:52| |
| Kilju | 03:58| 04:10| |
| Chamchin | 12:04| 12:28| |
| Kovon | 14:20| 14:41| |
| Pyongyang | 21:25| | |
We already assumed that this were not all the stops, and we were right...
After some kilometers we passed the triangular junction at which the line to
Onsong – Namyang – Hoeryong branches off.
There were one or two stops untill we went to bed and it was always the
same: Total darkness outside, people running around to find their wagon,
other people loading stuff into the luggage-car, railway staff blowing their
whistles and much "train-horning" before departure...
At some stop, when we were already sleeping, somebody was knocking on the
door. We opened it and a soldier wanted to see our passports. After some
minutes the passports were returned to us.
We were not really surprised about that, as we have heared that in North
Korea there are also restrictions for North Korean citizen travelling inside
their country. Especially travelling to Pyongyang is not easy for local
people and requires a special permit. But here it was maybe the border of
the Rajin-Songbon Economic Special Zone, which caused the additional
However, everything was OK and so we could continue sleeping...
Some more interesting information about the railway border Khasan/Tumangan:
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 tons
1990 – 3.526.000 tons
1993 – 2.306.000 tons
1994 – 761.000 tons
1999 – 230.000 tons
2002 – 68.000 tons
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.
Nowadays Russian railways (RZD) have big plans for this border crossing
point. One the one hand RZD hopes that the border between North and South
Korea will be opened soon and that they can establish an transcontinental
freight corridor from South Korea via Russia to Europe…
This might maybe not happen in the near future, but on the other hand RZD
now under a joint-venture with North Korea rebuilds the line from Tumangan
to the port of Rajin, where a new container terminal will be built. This
line is 54 km long and in future it will be a dual-gauge line. From Rajin
RZD and their partners want to establish a container-link by ship to Pusan
in South Korea.
The ceremonies to mark the start of the reconstruction works were held on
4th october 2008 at Tumangan – just 2 weeks after us...
(in Russian, with a TV-report)
http://www.amurpravda.ru/articles/2008/10/09/12.html ("6 hours in North
Korea"; a Russian journalist writes about this personal impresssions of his
visit to Tumangan)
For me it was quite strange to see a TV-report from Tumangan (my Firefox
doesn't show the report for some unknown reason, IE does however) just two
weeks after I have been there myself. And also in the TV-report the
journalist notices the empty tracks at Tumangan...
To be continued...
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...
>To be continued...
> 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...
Better that you tried, and reported about it, than somebody else
keeping it all for himself.
Jetzt die Banken nationalisieren, nicht subventionieren!
Congratulations for embarking upon such an adventure.
A technical question, though:
Helmut Uttenthaler wrote:
> At the short stop at Arkhara (4:04 - 4:07) we passed a long
> This long container-cars for two 40-feet-containers are relatively new in
> Russia, from the inscriptions we gathered that they have been built since
These cars were a surprise to me as well.
Can someone give more details about these?
I suppose these are longer than a typical 24.6m passenger wagon, so I
suppose that a typical UIC-loading gauge route would have problems with
Having done Beijing-Irkutsk-Moscow 20 years ago (in the good old Soviet
days) your article was of great interest to me. Congratulations.
A technical question; besides the different gauge, the Chinese/Korean
AAR couplings are not compatible with the Russian type and are located
at a lower level.
The coupling in the picture looks like an AAR type so it seems that they
changed the couplings as well as the bogies. Did you notice this?
This must be quite a time-consuming exercise; I wonder why they don't
just transfer passengers to another car.
I woke up at about 5 in the morning. It was still dark, but nevertheless it
was interesting to have a look out of the window. I noticed people walking
around in the darkness, maybe to reach their place of work.
A map of our trip from Tumangan to Pyongyang:
(map taken from http://rickinbham.tripod.com/Korea_Map.jpg)
Slowly it was getting light. The landscape was hilly and covered by
The first photo of the day – a station in North Korea:
My first video inside North Korea:
We approached a twon, but due to the delay I couldn't identify it with the
help of the timetable…
Arrival at the station:
I asked the conductors, they told me that this was Kilchu. According to the
Russian timetable the train was due to arrive here at 3:58, now it was 6:30.
On the platform there was another train. The conductors said, that it was
the Pyongyang – Tumangan train. On the platform there was a booth, where
apples and mineral water were sold – the first signs of market economy in
North Korea... Also at other stations food was sold at such booths.
Typical seating car:
Also this train had two sleeping cars:
At the rear of the train to Tumangan a helper-locomotive was attached here.
Apparently the line is quite steep north of Kilchu.
The boundaries of the track ballast are usually marked with accurately laid
white stones. Every 100 meters a milestone shows the distance to/from
Pyongyang. According to them Kilchu is 570 km from Pyongyang. That means
that during the night we have done 285 km since Tumangan within 10,5 hours –
average speed 27 km/h.
River crossing near Kilchu:
Railway bridges in North Korea usually have no foot-path and no handrails,
next to the rails there is just nothing…
Traditional Korean houses near Kilchu:
The whole train:
Somewhere here I made a strange observation: One of the engine drivers
opened the door and climbed nearly to the roof. I don't know what he did, he
soon returned to the cabin. But that all happened while the train was moving
and eletricity (3 kV DC) was in the catenary and the pantographs...
On the roads next to the railway there hardly no cars (only a few lorries,
carrying freight and people), but many people walking around. And we also
saw many children, obviously going to their school.
7:46 - passing a small station near Kimchaek:
7:57 – arrival at Kimchaek:
When the train arrived or departed at a station there were usually masses of
railway employees standing on the platform and blowing whistles. Many
passengers were soldiers and I assume that due to the "military
first"-policy (called "Songun"-policy and introduced by Kim Jong Il after
the death of Kim Il Sung, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Songun) ordinary
passengers were only allowed to get on, if there were free places after the
Maize and rice fields:
8:24 – passing a small station:
8:34 – passing a small station:
Some propaganda (I assume it tells something like “Great progress in the
21st century due the wise leadership of Kim Jong Il”…)
Near Tanchon a line to an industrial are (refinery, magnesium plant)
branches off (source: Googleearth and
At Tanchon station (arr. ~9:00, dep. 9:13) we see this former RZD
plazkartniy-car in another domestic train (to Hyesan, if I remember
correctly). Very interesting!
2nd hand Chinese diesel locomotive:
Double-section electric locomotive:
South of Tanchon the line to Suram-ni via Sangnong-ni branches off:
9:51 – passing a small station:
Kim Il Sung and an obelisk, next to which some kind of meeting was held…
Train video with much and loud "tatak-tatak" at maybe 30 km/h...
There are many tunnels en-route, and all are guarded by female soldiers...
Station Kuum-ni (arr 10:11, dep ~10:22)
River crossing just south of Kuum-ni:
10:28 - Passing another passenger train:
Seaiting car with pantograph:
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
(…what would I do without 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.
The railway line sometimes follows the coast, then again – when the shore is
too rocky –
goes in the hinterland for some kilometers and climbs up the hills and then
comes back down to the coast and so on.
Japanese Sea again (11:10):
Due to the beautiful landscape tourism could boom, if there weren't so many
It was visible that the people are relatively poor. We often saw people
washing their clothes in rivers – many houses don't seem to have water
supply, let alone electricity. Now it was september and still warm, but we
could imagine how hard life is here in the bitterly cold winter.
However, we saw nobody who was visibly underfed. OK, those who are, would
probably not walk around.
Approaching a small bridge (11:30) between Kuum-ni and Soho-ri:
Lake south of Soho-ri:
At Yuktae-dong east station (there are two stations in this town, I decided
to call them "east" and "west") we saw this 8-axle freight wagon (12:53):
Another freight wagon at the same station:
At Yuktae-dong west station (13:09):
Our train stopped in one of these stations, but I don't rember which and
also the time of the photos doesn't tell it exactly.
I'm not sure whether it was here or elsewhere, but at one station I saw a
woman who ran to the locomotive, opened the door, put their suitcase in and
then boarded herself. Maybe she had no valid travel documents and instead
payed the engine drivers to take her?
Next to Yuktae-dong west station:
13:13 – passing a small station west of Yuktae-dong
During the train trip sometimes other railway staff from the train came to
our sleeping-car. At lunch time two North Korean "provodnizas" (BTW, I have
to admit that many North Korean women are quite attractivel) had lunch
together with our conductors. Together they also did something with the
boxes stored everywhere in the sleeping-car. Maybe they had "ordered" some
items from Russia and now received them.
I think the conductors of this sleeping-car have a relatively good life.
They can see the outside-world, don't have to work really hard (most time
they were eating, playing cards or sleeping) and can earn some extra
Road traffic was scarce and existed primarily in form of lorries and
tractors. Hardly no passenger cars were visible.
Endless rice fields:
Freight train (15:30):
Station Hamchun (~15:55, scheduled 12:04 – 12:28)
Local people, who saw us at stations, were at the 1st moment quite
surprised, but then usually didn't care.
When somewhere in the countryside people, who were walking or working on the
fields next to the railway, saw us looking out of the passing train,
unbelieving amazement was their reaction and often the told other people
standing next to them, that there is something sensational to see and
pointed to us…
We then often beckoned to them and they beckoned back and laughed,
especially if they were children.
However, I also saw children who were using the railway as playground. Some
maybe five year old children were running close to the train and throwing
stones to it. Fortunately nothing happened, but it really looked dangerous
and I can imagine that terrible accidents, at which playing children are hit
by trains, sometimes happen...
Electric shunter about one hour after Hamchun:
We noticed that the water of the rivers was relatively clean and that hardly
no waste was lying around. That's the advantage of an underdeveloped
One more train video:
Freight train (17:39)
An elektrichka? (17:55)
At Kovon (arr. 18:14, dep. 18:27; scheduled: 14:20 – 14:41, 215 more
kilometres till Pyongyang):
The timetable attached on the corridor of our sleeping car. It ends at
At Kovon the "coastal" mainline from Tumangan to Wonsan and beyond meets the
mainline from Pyongyang. The line from Pyongyang is connected to both ends
of the station, meaning that no trains have to change direction here. All
three lines are single-track and electrified.
The locomotive of our train was nevertheless exchanged here – the 1st time
during that day and maybe since Tumangan.
Unfortunately it was too dark to take photos during the further trip to
Pyongyang. The line was very scenic, it was a real mountain line. The train
climbed up following a narrow valley. We passed many tunnels and bridges and
after some time we noticed a clear sky above us. The weather was cloudy only
close to the sea, here in the mountains it was perfect.
We finally crossed the mountain ridge through a longer tunnel. Outside it
was already totally dark. The notorious Yodok concentration camp
(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yodok_concentration_camp) is said to be
located somewhere here, according to Google Earth we were as close as 30
kilometers to it...
We stopped at Yangdok station at 21:15, then at Sinsongchon (22:20) and
arrived at Sunchon at 23:27. The towns seemed to have electricity as we
noticed light inside the houses (not very bright however, I heared that in
North Korea only 40-watt bulbs are available). But there were no street
lights and no lights on the platforms. Railway staff used LED torch lights
Departure from Sunchon was at 23:36. According to our map the distance to
Pyongyang was about 60 kilometers. We expected to arrive at Pyongyang at
about 1:30 and decided to get some sleep.
We woke up again, when one conductor knocked on our door and said
"Pyongyang, Pyongyang". Five minutes later we arrived at Pyongyang main
station. I don't remember the exact time, but it was about 2:15.
It was the end of a 13.000 kilometer long train trip, which took 13 days 8
hours and 30 minutes and during which I crossed four borders and experienced
gauge-changing two times...
(map taken from http://www.etsu.edu/math/gardner/sputnik/Russia-map.jpg)
We already saw two persons waiting on the platform, they seemed to be our
guides. But we still had to pack our luggage. The conductors and the other
passengers were hectically unloading all those packages and boxes. After we
gathered all our belongings it was quite difficult to leave the sleeping-car
as many of those boxes were standing on the corridor.
Finally on the platform we said goodbye to the conductosr and made our way
through the crowd to our guides. They welcomed us and we excused for the
delay and the arrival in the middle of the night. One of the guides spoke
German, the other spoke English.
The train from Tumangan arrived on platform two, whereas the train from
Beijing via Sinuiju usually arrives and departs on platform one, the high
one which allows boarding without steps. Pyongyang was also the only North
Korean station on our trip with some weak light on the platform.
We were guided over track one to a special exit in the station building
where we had to show our tickets. Through a corridor in the building we came
to the square in front of the station, where our car (a Toyota-minibus) and
its driver were waiting. We were the only passengers using this station exit
and I assume that there is another station exit for North Koreans, where
they have to show their papers allowing the trip to Pyongyang.
The German speeking guide asked us, how we bought our tickets and who
recommended us this route. We answered more or less truthfully, but that was
We then drove to the "Yanggakdo"-hotel
(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yanggakdo_Hotel), located on an island in the
middle of the Taedong-river. The main station is very close to it. Of course
the street lights weren't switched on. At the island we branched off the
main road and continued to the hotel. The hotel area was fenced off and the
gate was already closed. After some time it opened and we could drive to the
hotel. We checked in and left our passports at the reception.
The guides told us, that the next day we would meet at 8:30 in the hotel
lobby and then visit the "Kumsusan Memorial Palace" (= mausoleum of the
Great Leader Kim Il Sung). For that we were asked to wear the most formal
clothes we had.
We then sayed "good night" to them and went up to our room on the 21st
floor, where the 1st thing I did, was taking a shower and the 2nd thing was
copying the photos of the trip from Tumangan to Pyongyang to a safe place on
We went to bed only at about 4:00 and still had some discussions about our
trip to Pyongyang which generated so much impressions and also raised many
questions. For example:
"What are the other passengers of our car doing now?"
"How did they get home from the station?"
"What was inside the boxes?"
"Are the passengers happy to be at home now or would they prefer to stay in
"How do they think about North Korea, after they have been to the outside
world? Do they still believe they live in the best world?"
Many unsolved questions already in the beginning of our stay in North
To be continued...
Yes, the couplings were also changed.
> This must be quite a time-consuming exercise; I wonder why they don't
> just transfer passengers to another car.
Changing boogies and couplings took less time than the whole immigration
formalities.... also the timetable of the domestic trains, to which the
sleeping car is attached, causes long layovers at Lhasan and Tumangan, so
there is enough time...
> <grossly snipped>
>Many unsolved questions already in the beginning of our stay in North
>To be continued...
Helmut: superb description.
Programm for that day:
- Kumsusan Memorial Palace (Kim Il Sung mausoleum)
- Revolutionary Martyrs Cemetery
- Book&stamp shop
- lunch at the Yanggakdo hotel
- drive to Myohyang mountains
- Check in Hyangsan hotel
- little hiking trip in the Manpok valley
- Diner at Hyangsan hotel
Morning view from our room. The railway bridge over the Tadeong-river can be
seen in the fog.
The breakfast at the hotel was quite good, there was a buffet and even
imported "Darbo"-jam from Stans in Tirol (Austria) was available…
After the long train trip across North Korea, during which we got an
impression of real North Korean life, the luxury here at the hotel was a big
At 8:30 we met our guides and drove to the Kumsusan Memorial Palace. It was
the official residence of Kim Il Sung untill he died in 1994. Then Kim Jong
Il, his son, decided to transfer it into a mausoleum for Kim Il Sung.
Taking photos are not allowed inside the mausoleum. There were hordes of
North Korean waiting to see the Great Leader and also some foreign tourists.
Foreign tourists and their guides were privleged and didn't had to wait.
The building is really huge and we walked through long corridors. Everything
is very clean and bright, escalators are working and music like this
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DW1jmWuvh2o is coming from the loudspeakers.
No doubt that this is the most sacred place in North Korea.
Before seeing Kim Il Sungs embalmed body we passed some other rooms. In one
of them all decorations and certificates received by Kim Il Sung are
exhibited. The items are sorted according to origin: domestic, from Europe,
from Africa etc.
This is to show the North Korean people that the Great Leader was honored
everywhere in the world. Most official decorations he received from other
communist states and their leaders (Erich Honecker, Fidel Castro, Nicolae
Ceausescu...). However, there were also some decorations or certificate from
various organizations, universities, parties in Western countries. Also a
certificate from an university in the United States... (don't remember which
university). We were also given earphones and heared that the whole world
was shocked after Kim Il Sung died in 1994 and that there was mourning all
over the world...hmmm
Finally we went to the main-room of the mausoleum. The guides told us how to
behave, how to walk, where to put or not to put the arms and so on and that
we would have to make three bows for the Great Leader.
That's what we then did when we were in the big room, in which there is the
clear sarcophagus with the body of Kim Il Sung inside. One bow in front of
the sarcophagus, then one at the left side and then the last on the right
After that we passed to two other rooms, where Kim Il Sungs car and his
special waggon were exhibited.
Outside again, we could take some photos of the impressive building.
North Koreans posing for a group photo:
So, now only the Ho Chi Minh mausoleum in Hanoi is missing in my "personal
collection" of mausoleums with embalmed corpses of state founding leaders
(there are four such mausoleums in the world)!
Unfortunately it was not possible to use the tram line to get to the
mausoleum and back. This meter-gauge tramway line is not connected to the
ordinary tramway network and it's only purpose is to bring visitors to the
Kumsusam Memorial Palace. Old trams from Zurich are used on this line. The
guides said, that only bigger groups of foreign tourists can use the tramway
(in a seperate train, I assume).
However, we asked our guides whether we could at least take some photos at
the terminal stop near the mausoleum. After a short tolk with an officer the
guide said, that we were allowed to take some photos...
Then we drove to the Revolutionary Martyrs Cemetery on mount Taesong. The
guides told us the stories of some of the North Korean heroes buried there.
We also were asked to buy some flowers for 2 EUR and lay them down at the
bust of Anti-Japanese war hero Kim Jong Suk (= Kim Jong Il's wife):
The day after our visit was the 59th anniversary of her death, which
explains the quantity of flowers and wreaths.
High Tribute to Kim Jong Suk Paid
Pyongyang, September 22 (KCNA) -- Wreaths were laid before the bust of
anti-Japanese war hero Kim Jong Suk at the Revolutionary Martyrs Cemetery on
Mt. Taesong on Monday on the occasion of the 59th anniversary of her demise.
Seen before the bust was a wreath from Kim Jong Il, general secretary of the
Workers' Party of Korea, chairman of the DPRK National Defence Commission
and supreme commander of the Korean People's Army.
Attending the wreath-laying ceremony were senior party, army and state
officials, the chairperson of a friendly party, leading officials of party,
armed forces and power bodies, working people's organizations, ministries
and national institutions, servicepersons and working people and
schoolchildren in the city of Pyongyang.
Placed before the bust amidst playing of the wreath-laying music were
wreaths in the name of the WPK Central Committee, the Presidium of the DPRK
Supreme People's Assembly and the DPRK Cabinet.
Also laid were wreaths in the name of the Ministry of the People's Armed
Forces, working people's organizations, ministries and national
institutions, KPA units, educational, cultural and art, public health and
press organs, the joint national organizations of the Korean Children's
Union, and party and power bodies, factories and farms in Pyongyang.
The participants paid silent tribute to Kim Jong Suk, looking back upon her
noble revolutionary life and immortal exploits.
Meanwhile, floral baskets were placed before her statues in Kim Jong Suk
County and Hoeryong City and at Kim Jong Suk Naval Academy and Kim Jong Suk
General Military School on the same occasion.
People Remember Kim Jong Suk's Brilliant Life
Pyongyang, September 22 (KCNA) -- An endless stream of servicepersons,
people from all walks of life and school youth and children is visiting the
bust of Kim Jong Suk, an anti-Japanese war hero and woman commander of Mt.
Paektu, in the Revolutionary Martyrs Cemetery on Mt. Taesong and the
revolutionary sites and revolutionary battle sites associated with her
undying feats across the country in September on the occasion of the 59th
anniversary of her death.
The number of visitors reached more than 500,000 as of Sept. 21.
This is a manifestation of the iron faith and will of the army and people to
hold in high esteem forever Kim Jong Suk, supreme incarnation of devotedly
defending the leader who gave a steady continuity to the Songun revolution
and dedicated her all to the country and the revolution.
Senior party, army and state officials and over 200,000 servicepersons,
people from all walks of life and school youth and children visited the
Revolutionary Martyrs Cemetery on Mt. Taesong to pay high tribute to Kim
Jong Suk. The cemetery was also visited by a great number of overseas
compatriots and foreigners.
Many people of different social standings have visited the revolutionary
sites in North Hamgyong Province, including the time-honored Hoeryong
Revolutionary Site, Kim Jong Suk's birthplace, and revolutionary sites and
revolutionary battle sites in Ryanggang, South Hamgyong and Jagang
provinces, looking back with deep emotion upon her brilliant revolutionary
Then we drove to a stamps shop. Typicial street in Pyongyang:
We were the only clients at the shop. I bought a t-shirt with the North
Korean flag and the slogan "See you in Pyongyang" on it, as well as a book
with transport-related stamps. Very interesting, that also foreign trains
were shown on the stamps:
Back at the hotel we had lunch at the revolving restaurant on the top of it
(on the 41st floor or so). The view was great alltough the revolving was
switched off (maybe to save power...)
The main station seen from Yanggakdo hotel:
The famous unfinished Ryugyong hotel (
The skyline of Pyongyang:
Taedong river with Juche-tower and the Mayday-stadium in the background:
Our room on the 21st floor:
At 14:00 we left the hotel and drove to the Myohyang-mountains, about 120 km
(as the crow flies) north of Pyongyang. See
Driving through Pyongyang:
Highway to Hyangsan:
youtube-video of our car ride on the highway:
There was of course no light inside the tunnel. As far as I know the North
Korean highways were built in the 1990ies, but they are already in a
relatively bad state. The bumpy asfalt doesn't allow speeds much over 100
Traffic is scarce, we only see some tourist busses, some military trucks and
very few "private" cars (maybe owned by high party members). However, North
Korea is the first country in the world, which has adapted the
"shared-space" concept ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shared_space ) also
for highways: They are used by cars, bycicles and pedestrians!
During the trip we also saw some railway lines and trains, but due to the
bumpy ride taking photos was quite a difficult task.
Railway bridge used by pedestrians:
After 2 hours we arrived at the Hyangsan hote – view from our room:
After a short break we drive to the start of the hiking trail "Manpok
valley". Together with one of the two guides we walk up to a small pavillon
. The trail was very scenic and leads to some waterfalls. However, there was
only few water due to the season, but is was nevertheless beautiful.
As it was already late, there were only a few other people on the trail, we
only met some North Korean tourists:
Me and our guide:
But also here in the nature the two Kims were omnipresent: On some rocks
there were inscriptions, which mean something like "Or Leader Kim Jong Il
(or Kim Il Sung) ordered, that this beautiful piece of nature should be
preserved and made accesible for people...
When we returned to the car, it was already quite dark. We drove back to the
hotel and had dinner.
BTW, during the car ride we noticed, that there was a 2nd road in this
valley. We passed under it once, but there seemed to be no connection with
the road we used. Very strange.
Also at the entry to the valley we saw a railway line, but then in the
valley we saw no further evidence of it. Also strange.
We already knew, that there were such strange things in North Korea, so we
kept our eyes open...
After I returned to Austria, I had to look at GoogleEarth and I found out
that the 2nd road leads over many serpentines to the Hyangsan-chalet, a
former residence of Kim Il Sung and the place, where he died in 1994. So was
the road some kind of special elite-road and therefore seperated from the
ordinary road? See also
And the railway line, branching off the Kaechon – Kanggye line indeed ends
only after a few meters at a so called "elite station" (according to the
NorthKorea Uncovered overlay for GE), where the elite eventually transferred
from train to car to get to the Hyangsan-chalet?
However, I also heared that earlier foreign tourists travelled to Mt.
Myohang by train, so maybe they also used this station with special trains
Hmm, I can think of at least five. I suppose there are many more.
"Helmut Uttenthaler" <helmut.ut...@gmx.at> skrev i meddelandet
> This and the next parts of the travelogue are quite off-topic here,
> because they don't contain much transport-related stuff. However, I also
> want to show some pictures of our touristic programm in and around
> Pyongyang, I hope you like them too.
Have been a pleasure to follow the trip and the many interesting photos.
Thank you very much