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North Korean Train Crosses DMZ

Posted May. 18, 2007 03:14,   


A Donghae (East Coast) line train, which has slumbered for the past 57 years, awoke at 11:27 a.m. on Thursday. The southbound test-run train stretched its body while blowing its whistle at Geumgang Station, North Korea.

Perhaps because of its long-hiatus, the train ran at a speed of around 10km/hr while rattling and rocking back and forth en-route to its destination, Jejin Station in South Korea.

The train maintained a speed of below 20km/hr at the foot of Mount Geumgang as the area contains a serpentine length of track. The train seemed to be tilted to one side as it passed through the many curves and bends.

“Although it is the latest train to come out of North Korea, the technological gap with those of South Korea seems to be around 30 years,” said an official of the Korea Railroad, who was aboard the train.

Unlike the South Korean Saemaeul train, which has 64 seats in one car, 106 passengers can sit on a North Korean train car because five people can sit on each row; three people on the right seat and two people on the left seat. However, the space allocated for a passenger is far smaller than that of the South Korean trains.

Seats are fixed so that passengers have to face each other and the seats cannot be reclined. Although the back was almost perpendicular to the seat, the ivory plastic seats were deceptively comfortable.

“Although the train was made in 1968, both the engine room and the driving room were clean because it has been well maintained. The North Korean train runs on a four cycle diesel engine, so it is much quieter than the South Korean trains which contain a two cycle diesel engine,” said Kim Dong-ryul, a South Korean train driver who drove the train on its test-run.

When I was lost in conception, the train moved away from Mount Geumgang and North Korean farmers working in their fields, and then suddenly reduced its speed at Kamho Station, the last stop in North Korea.

At around noon, four customs officers and two station employees boarded each train-car. “I sincerely welcome you all as the first passengers of this train service. I will now conduct the customs procedure,” one of the customs officers said.

It took a considerable amount of time as the officers compared their photo-attached passenger list with each passenger and thoroughly checked pictures that South Korean passengers had taken with digital cameras.

It was 12:15 p.m., about five minutes before crossing the Military Demarcation Line (MDL).

The train blew its horn and sped up. It seemed to be running at a speed of about 40 to 50 km/hr. Although the body of the train trembled severely, it was not severe enough to upset bottles that sat on the reading tables. The train seemed to accelerate every time it blew its horn.

When the announcement was made that the train was about to cross the DMZ, everyone looked out of the windows. When the train passed the DMZ, at 12:21 p.m., the passengers erupted with applause and cheering.

The train successfully finishing its mission of passing the DMZ for the first time in a half century was a very special train for North Koreans. A sign on one side of the train read, “A Train that Great leader Kim Il Sung Boarded in Person on August 9, 1968. Honorary Award 26.” The passenger train, painted in green and azure, was reportedly manufactured by Kim Jong Tae Electric Locomotive Factory.