Daily NK has learned that a typhoon which travelled across North Korea late last month brought about the collapse of the Ryongha Tunnel in Unheung County, Yangkang Province, crippling rail services to and from the border city of Hyesan.
A Yangkang Province source reported the news on the 20th, saying, “The Ryongha Tunnel caved in as a result of Typhoon #15 [as ‘Typhoon Bolaven’ was known in North Korea]. The No.1 Train from Pyongyang to Hyesan is still not operational.”
The Ryongha Tunnel is a 1.6km long tunnel that lies on the ‘Mt. Baekdu Youth Line’ connecting Kilju in North Hamkyung Province with Hyesan in Yangkang Province. It forms part of the route of Train No.1 from Pyongyang Station to Hyesan Youth Station and Train No.2, which goes the opposite way.
When it passed through the area on August 29th, Typhoon Bolaven caused 400m of the central section of the tunnel to collapse inwards under the weight of the drenched earth lying above it, the source said. The tunnel was empty at the time, and no casualties are believed to have occurred.
However, there is a real sense of urgency about the repair work, the source added, noting, “It is not only railroad workers under Hyesan Railroad Bureau that have been mobilized to fix the tunnel; soldiers from local bases are out there too.”
This is partly because the route is one of those regularly employed to imbue Party members, soldiers and university students with propaganda on the revolutionary achievements of the regime, many of which have their roots in North Hamkyung Province. In a sense, it connects the ‘capital of the revolution’ [Pyongyang] with the ‘shrine to the revolution’ [Mt. Baekdu].
However, the work is not easy; the rails running through the Ryongha Tunnel are single-track, and the tunnel itself is only about 4m x 4m in size, making it difficult for heavy equipment to get to the scene of the accident. As a result, the work is being done almost entirely by hand.
“The central committee is pushing for completion of the work before the Supreme People’s Assembly (SPA) session on the 25th, but nobody knows how many more days it might take,” the source commented.
There is another pressing issue for the authorities to address, which is that regional SPA delegations ordinarily travel to and from the capital by train. However, direct travel for Yangkang Province delegates was ultimately declared impossible, and the authorities ordered the provincial delegation to go west to Manpo in Jagang Province then down to Pyongyang from there on the No.4 train. According to the source, the delegation departed Hyesan Youth Station on the 19th, and was expected to arrive in Pyongyang a day later on the 20th at 6PM.
Meanwhile, the cause of the tunnel collapse is clear. In the source’s words, it is a combination of prioritizing speed over construction quality coupled to a sheer lack of mechanization and poor quality construction materials.
“The cement, the sand and the construction equipment are all too old and too stale,” the source declared dismissively. “The repaired tunnel is not going to be any better because our basic economic problems have not been solved.”