The International Steam Pages

Steam in North Korea 2003

In February 2003, I again parted with a substantial proportion of my life savings for Florian Schmidt to take me to a new Asian destination. The first trip to Cambodia in November 1999 was a great success, the second was even more of a challenge and hence, when things turned out as planned at least in part, even more of a success. Would I buy a used car from Florian? On the basis of these two trips, probably yes. Would I buy one from the North Koreans? Definitely not yet! Although we got our first train, the loco's subsequent failure(s) and the absence of a back-up loco taken with the refusal of the powers-that-be to grant us permission to visit an alternative centre with active steam (despite the best attempts of our tour guides) would make it difficult for me to unreservedly recommend visiting the country for steam until more research has been done and a viable 'Plan B' has been put in place.

For me, apart from the experience of a new country, there was also the promise of some rare narrow gauge steam. Since we had to spend some time in Pyongyang, I have included some pictures of its public transport system. But first a view of our sponsor, the Great Leader.

Anyway, we arrived as scheduled in Pyongyang on February 1st and had the standard quick city tour before being incarcerated in the palatial Yanggakdo Hotel on an island mid-river as far from any real local people/night life as possible. Maybe it was just as well because the country switches off at night partly because it is caught in a classic Catch-22 situation with no electricity to operate the pumps/winding gear to haul up the coal to burn to make electricity. JF 6083 (masquerading as 6088 with some carefully applied paint) was turned out on the coastal Nampho to Cholgwang branch with a prototypical train of five carriages on 2nd February. Here it poses at Songwan in the afternoon under the watchful eye of Kim Il Sung.

Nampho is a strategically important port and so our train was waiting for us some kilometres out of town. From here we set out across the 8km long West Sea Barrage, built to limit the inundation of salt water into the estuary. 

During the winter, the landward (east) side was almost completely frozen, while the seaward side was only partly frozen.

At the far end sluice gates are present to control the flow of water.

While there are lock gates to allow shipping to pass through in warmer months.

Beyond the barrage, the railway follows the coast, past a number of traditional small Korean villages such as Songwan.

Along this stretch (not unlike the Welsh Cambrian Coast line in parts), there are several excellent vantage points

Finally the line leaves the coast and strikes inland to Cholgwang, where we had a full lunch (most of which hopefully was cascaded to the loco/train crew) before returning tender first. It was a most satisfactory day - all the pictures from the trip are 'B grade' from my digital camera.

On 3rd February, a planned second run did not take place owing to a late failed boiler tube. Instead we had an extended second session with narrow gauge 1505 at Cholgwan. The railway promised to try to repair the loco for February 4th but in the event this was not possible and there was no back-up locomotive. A second attempt to run this special for the rump of the party who had elected to stay on was also similarly aborted.

Rob Dickinson