The International Steam Pages

Steam in North Korea 2002-2005

This page contains the reports submitted since the most recent lifting of the North Korean steam curtain in 2002.

By way of background, this next paragraph was written in the early days of this website.:

"This is probably the least well documented user of working steam in the world. A difficult country to visit, but Namyang yards and the main line south can be observed from Tumen, China.  In late 1995, I saw steam on the main line here.  Hiromi Masaki and friends had a frustrating visit to the country from April 20th to 24th 1998. Although they had been promised steam excursions, these failed to materialise! They were told that main line steam has finished, due to electrification. There are 9 steam locomotives in Rajin loco shed. They have DK (2-10-0 tender) and Mikado (2-8-2 tender made in Japan).  John Raby added a photograph of some mystery locos to his forgotten railways page. It is now (October 97) likely these have been identified and there is more information on James Hefner's developing list of Korean steam locos. link dead on 25th August 2015"

And this followed:

A (working) visitor to the small port of Hungnam on the east coast reported that it had a busy rail system shunted by two (tender) steam locomotives. Unfortunately, he was not an enthusiast - no detailed reliable description is available (24th August 2002).

These are the most recent reports..

Since the report below concerning 2005 was written, Bernd Seiler reports that it seems that the North Koreans have scrapped the two working steam locos used by enthusiasts in recent visits and will not countenance visits to other areas where steam is known to survive. This leaves just the narrow gauge at Cholwang accessible to visitors, all very sad (18th March 2006).

Bernd Seiler has been back to North Korea with a tour group and it seems there is a little more real steam there still (24th October 2004). Bernd returned again in April 2005, there is yet more 'real steam' in the country, bur accessing it remains the problem. A full report will appear on his web site in early May, but for the moment here are three pictures of old wood burning Mika 6618 at Toksong in east of country taken by a North Korean citizen (26th April 2005). It appears to be not dissimilar to the JF6 in the Beijung Railway Museum apart from the cab:

What is probably steam's last frontier is/was opening up. The accounts below record initial efforts and successful tours, but I understand (2nd March 2004) that an irresponsible German journalist used the opportunity of a December 2003 tour to prepare an unauthorised TV documentary. The economic and political situation in this country is surely well known in Europe and no purpose could possibly have been served by such action. As a result, steam tours will be much more difficult to operate here. All the more disappointing when it has now been confirmed that real steam was in use on cross border traffic between Man'po into Ji'an in China in November 2003 (27th July 2004).

Florian Schmidt advised me (1st September 2002) "I was recently able to visit North Korea and, according to my knowledge, for the first time ever, the North Koreans arranged shed visits and steam train rides for a western visitor." Click here for more pictures (27th September 2002).

As a result I joined Florian's February 2003 trip (1st March 2003) organised together with Bernd Seiler's FarRail tours. Suffice to say that I was more than satisfied despite the high price demanded by our hosts and some severe technical hitches. Florian has also provided some historical perspective in an article which originally appeared in the Continental Railway Journal (1st March 2003). An English language report on a further December 2003 tour has now appeared on Bernd Seiler's FarRail tours website (11th January 2004) and I have Alexandre Gilleron's report of the January 2004 visit (pictures added 1st February 2004).

North Korean prize winner

Bill Alborough led a group here in March 2003 and also had a day out on the Cholgwang Branch with JF 6083 and ng 1505. Like my group, they saw no evidence of current day-to-day working steam - which doesn't mean there isn't any! (added 23rd March 2003).

Rob Dickinson