The International Steam Pages
Steam in North Korea 2002
What follows is a brief photographic summary of what Florian Schmidt found. He has since added (27th September 2002) a snapshot of North Korea's railways.
The crew of Chung-gi 6083 takes a break along the route from Nampho to Cholgwang. Chung-gi is the Korean word for steam locomotive, in this case a Japanese-made Mikado. The hosts insisted in it being a Mika-1, but the frame suggested a Jiefang-type loco. Every engine has three crews of three plus two reserve staff. Our crew has won several awards for good service and punctuality, as the richly decorated cabside shows.
A standard shot of 6083 in Cholgwang
One more visual check and off we go to Nampho
Several glasses of home-made "Soju", the Korean rice liqueur, had to be downed , before the loco depot chief allowed a precious look into his treasure trove. 6126 in in the forground, 6152 behind. All together 13 steam locomotives belong to Cholgwang depot for services on the branch network in the western lowlands of Korea. Cholgwang reportedly sees three trains a day, most of them steam-hauled.
A true rarity! Naki-ha 1505 (the front plate is wrong), a narrow-gauge Mikado built under Japanese colonialist rule, and delivered to all narrow-gauge railways in the Korean flatlands. This survivor operates services on a 2.5 km long mine railway near Cholgwang.
DPRK 6 - Another 'super gricer', with friends, while testing clearly uncharted territory.
Building on this breakthrough, Florian is proposing a tour between 1st and 6th February 2003 jointly organised by himself and Bernd Seiler of FarRail featuring two standard-gauge and one narrow-gauge steam trains. See the FarRail website for more information - please mention you saw the report on this page!
Having visited the Democratic Preople's Republic of Korea, or DPRK, twice during the last two years, I managed to get a bit more than the usual glimpse of the existing steam locomotive roster..
I wish to encourage all fellow enthusiasts to provide additional information and, where necessary, corrections to the author. On a positive note, the North Korean authorities have now given the go-ahead to operate special steam trains in certain parts of the country (see above)
My hosts arranged a special steam train hauled by immaculate "Chung-gi" (the Korean word for steam locomotive) 2-8-2 6083 from the port city of Nampho, 55km southwest of Pyongyang, to Cholgwang, a railway hub in the western flatlands, a further 50km away. The engine belongs to Nampho shed where sightings of various Mikados had been reported during previous years. The shunting services in the port, however, are now performed by diesel engines. Soviet made TEM 569 was spotted in September 2001, another unidentified diesel in August 2002.
The line from Nampho to Cholgwang leads across the West Sea Barrage, an eight kilometer long dam with three locks, into an attractive hilly scenery with dominated by paddy fields. The tracks looked barely used but I was told that both diesel and steam locomotives perform regular passenger and freight services across the line.
A small village with a population of hardly more than a few thousand, is the hub of at least three standard-gauge lines and features a fairly sizeable loco shed. Traffic appeared to be at a low ebb, but the station-master mentioned "three daily passenger services, most of which are hauled by Japanese-made Mika".
The loco shed features 13 steam engines of which 11 are standard-gauge, and two 762mm-gauge. Seven of the former were in present, four serviceable (6126, 6152, 6026, 6053), two under repair and one derelict. Maintenance including heavy repair work is carried out in the workshops on the depot premises.
The engines were reportedly Japanese-made "Mikas" although their frames looked more "Jiefang"-style. The numbering system remains a mystery. The Korean hosts, however, explained that all Mikados bear 6xxx numbers. The second digit, spotted were 0 to 4 during the past few years, reveals the Mika-or Jiefang-specification. This, however, could not be verified. Each of the locomotives has allocated three crews of three plus two reserve staff, i.e. 11 personnel.
A surprise discovery was a 2.5km narrow-gauge line into a nearby mine, apparently ore, which is populated by two 2-8-2 Naki-ha engines. Spotted was number 505, which performed shunting services in the station with the trailing axle and wheels missing, effectively being a 2-8-0. The Naki-ha type was built during the Japanese colonial era, almost certainly in the 1930s.
This village lies a few miles away from Mt. Myohang, one of the five famous mountains of Korea and the location of the International Friendship Exhibition, a display of presents made by foreign dignitaries to the previous and current leaders of the DPRK. At least six Mikados were seen, which are used for branch line services to Unan and Pukchin.
The big junction on the line Pyongyang - Sinuiju has a steam depot on the right hand side after leaving the station northbound. In 2001 about five engines were seen, some cold Mikas and a serviceable "Jiefang"-type 6336. A year on, in August 2002, only 6336 was left but still in very good condition. The infrastructure, including water and coal supply looked utilized and steam-hauled services on nearby branches are a possibility.
Transiting visitors have repeatedly reported about steam shunts in Sinuiju. Such services were still performed in 2001, but the September 2002 visit only revealed immaculate Mikado 172 cold in the shed. The odd-numbered 172 is the depot's "star engine" and features huge smoke deflectors. The late President Kim Il Sung used to have a ride on the footplate. Photography in Sinuiju is strongly discouraged.
North Korea's railway network
The Railways of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Choson Cul Minzuzui Inmingonghoagug are the backbone and the only viable shipper of bulk commodities within North Korea's transportation infrastructure. More than 90% of the country's freight and 62% of its passenger traffic volume are carried by rail on a network of some 5,200 km, of which roughly 4,500 km are in standard gauge. The network is divided into five regional divisions, all of which report into the Pyongyang headquarters.
Not less than 80% of North Korea's railways are electrified, using 3,000V d.c., generated by hydro- and coal-power plants. This surprisingly high degree of electrification is the result of a comprehensive reconstruction of the railways after the Korean War to facilitate the economic programme of the ruling Korean Workers Party, which was heavily skewed towards heavy industry. While the initial transportation volume was very much carried out by a plethora of imported steam locomotives, President Kim Il Sung's so-called "Juche" principle, loosely translated as "self reliance", required an early quantum leap towards the electric traction.